CarbonX®; Breaking the Barrier in
Fire Safety Standards
By Bill Hanyon
Better fire retardant properties; stronger tensile strength; lighter weight; higher Limiting Oxygen Index (LOI); less heat transfer; better moisture regain; more flexible and comfortable. These are common requests heard daily by the research, development and designing heads for the high-end Fire Retardant (FR) safety equipment manufacturers. This was also the criteria that inspired Mike Chapman and Chapman Racing Heads to enter into the high performance fabric design and manufacturing business.
Initially, Chapmans vision was to develop a safer version of the FR fabrics currently on the market, fabrics that would reduce the severity of burn related injuries that occur in motorsports. This undertaking was both costly and time consuming, but the end results have vastly paid off. With the creation of CarbonX®, a new and proprietary carbon fiber based line of FR fabrics, Chapman has introduced a new innovation that will elevate fire safety standards into the next generation.
To better understand the differences between CarbonX® and competitive fabrics such as Nomex, Kevlar, PBI, Proban, Basofil and Panox, among others, one must first understand the technical functions and objectives relating to these fibers. There also has never been one type of high performance fiber or fabric that has the performance characteristics to be used in such a wide range of applications that CarbonX® has.
The basic concept and definition of a high performance FR fabric is usually considered a manmade fiber with a continuous operating temperature ranging between 375° to 600° f. The fibers are classified as having at least one of the following performance properties; operating temperature, the limit of heat transfer, tensile strength when exposed to high temperature, chemical resistance and, as previously mentioned, the LOI. As most of the FR fabrics currently used for FR safety applications have one, sometimes two of these properties, CarbonX® has all of these performance properties and more. CarbonX® also has the highest LOI rating of any FR fabric available.
Resistance to temperature plays an integral role in the fiber selection. Heat degrades fibers at different rates, depending on the fiber chemistry, atmospheric conditions and length and conditions of exposure. The key element for high-temperature resistant fibers is their continuous operating temperature in addition to the ability to withstand condensed periods of higher temperatures. Some fibers can usually survive exposure to temperatures above their continuous operating temperatures, but the result is the fiber will begin to degrade, destroying all of its integrity and protective properties.
CarbonX® is manufactured through a proprietary cooking process exceeding 1600° f. at times for over 60 minutes. This is where the yarns receive their initial carbonization process. The reason CarbonX® will not burn is when the fabric is exposed to intense heat or flame, the actual fibers will carbonize and then expand, eliminating any oxygen content within the fabric. This is where CarbonX® outperforms and is superior to any and all FR fibers and fabrics. Its common to confuse temperature resistance with Flame retardancy. Flame retardancy is commonly measured by the LOI, the amount of oxygen needed in the atmosphere to support combustion. Fibers / fabrics with an LOI greater than 25 are said to be flame retardant, meaning there must be at least 25% oxygen present for the fabric to burn. Obviously, the higher the LOI, the more fire retardant the fabric is (see attached schedule A). The LOI rating for the majority of the FR fabrics on the market is usually determined by adding a flame retardant finish to the fiber or fabric, thus resulting in deterioration after continued UV exposure and normal laundry care. CarbonX®, on the other hand, is also a manmade fiber but is never treated with any additives or chemicals. UV exposure, laundry and chemicals will never effect the performance properties.
Another relevant rating system that has been used for years is the Thermal Protective Performance, or TPP. This applies to the garments ability to provide TPP when exposed to both direct flame and radiant heat, or the length of time before a person is subject to second-degree burns. After extensive TPP, flammability and shrinkage test comparisons between the leading FR fabrics and CarbonX®, based on the autoracing industry SFI standards, the results indicate it is time to take a serious look at upgrading the standards. At approximately 600° f., the leading FR fabrics burn, begin to shrink while charring, then crack and decompose. This is all in about 10 seconds. Under flammability testing, the FR fabrics will ignite and they often have problems passing the shrinkage test. Under the same conditions, CarbonX® is not affected in any way. It even disburses the heat energy and will take about 60 seconds before the heat will start penetrating the next layer of fabric. CarbonX® will not ignite or burn even when exposed to temperatures exceeding 2600° f. for over 120 seconds. As far as material shrinkage, it does not exist with CarbonX®.
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