Coloured carbon fibre team wins funding to develop white material

UK-based materials specialist Hypetex has been awarded £100,000 from Innovate UK to help fund its work on the development of white carbon fibre.

In its natural state the material always comes in more or less the same shade of dark grey. However, in 2013 Hypetex began work on a process that would allow the company to produce carbon fibre in virtually any colour, without the use of a secondary paint or coating.

“Paint adds weight, which defeats the object of using carbon fibre in the first place,” said Marc Cohen, Hypetex’s CEO. “Our process has a negligible effect on the overall mass of the part – we’re talking fractions of a percent – and it accentuates the underlying weave structure.”

Other benefits are said to include improved resistance to ageing from heat and UV, plus a small increase in tensile strength. However, the one thing the process can’t offer reliably at this stage is the preferred colour for a lot of applications: white.

“At the moment we’re getting discolouration issues at certain curing temperatures,” explained Cohen. “We’ve had some very good results, but they’re not consistent enough for mass production just yet.”

Hypetex can now offer production parts in other colours, although the material is currently awaiting certification for some industries, such as aerospace. The process itself is a closely guarded secret and currently the company manufactures all parts in-house to protect its IP.

Cohen told The Engineer that his team has a solution in mind for the discolouration problems that currently affect the white material, although details are being kept under wraps. Hypetex is also understood to be working on a pre-preg variant that will be supplied to third party companies. Both projects will benefit from the Innovate UK grant.