Technical fiber is natural and manufactured fiber that is used for engineered applications. These applications often produce large business revenue globally and is seen in almost every contemporary building material for all applications ranging from construction to car manufacturing. This section is dedicated to technical fiber and will provide information on the types and structure of fiber, how technical fiber is produced and how to apply fiber to engineered applications.
Carbon fiber is the most recent fiber reinforcement, primarily replacing high-end applications where glass fiber cannot be thin or light enough. Only recently available commercially (~2000), carbon fiber is used everywhere from sailboat masts to golf clubs to rocket ships.
Recently, within the last decade, sustainability has become a greater and impacting global issue; as a result, desire for displacement of non-renewable or energy-intensive fibers (i.e. glass, plastic, steel, carbon) by natural fibers (i.e. hemp, flax, wood, etc.) is of great interest to society.
Types of Fiber
There are numerous types of fiber, broken into two (2) primary categories; natural and manufactured. Natural fiber is sub-divided into two (2) segments; natural organic and natural inorganic.
Natural fibers can be extracted from plant, animal, insect, microbial (natural organic) and mineral sources (natural inorganic) and refined for apparel and industrial use. There are 3 main classes of natural fibers based on source and chemical composition as follows:
- Cellulose Based: organic, vegetable (plant) based fibers extracted from the fruit, leaf, seed or stem of the plant. Some algae also produce cellulose fibers. Cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth.
- Protein Based: organic animal hair or insect secretions.
- Mineral Based: inorganic natural mined materials with an aspect ratio.
Of the over 100 plant types capable of supplying fiber, the most structural fiber come from those where extraction is from the stem. Due to the stem needing flexural strength against wind, these fibers such as hemp have evolved into the strongest natural fibers.
Manufactured fiber are fibers produced from fundamental constituent molecules in industrial process and are sub-divided into three (3) segments; regenerated natural, fiber that chemically absorb natural fiber materials then rebuilds the natural molecules (regenerate) into higher purity fibers with improved engineering properties, such as rubber. Synthetic organic, fiber that is manufactured from oil, gas, coal or agriculturally derived organic feedstock, such as polypropylene. Thirdly, inorganic synthetic, fiber that is manufactured from inorganic feedstocks that are usually produced from a mined sources such as fiberglass. The figure below provides a comprehensive list of commercially relevant fibers.