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First developed in Ukraine in the 1960s, continuous basalt fibre (CBF) and its production technology have evolved considerably over the past decades. This article reviews the history and modern developments of CBF production technologies and equipment before answering some questions on the economics of CBF production.
(Published on September 2007 – JEC Magazine #35)
DR SERGEY OSNOS, BASALT FIBRE & COMPOSITE MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPMENT COMPANY
Fibre manufacturers, composite material manufacturers and consumers are interested in continuous basalt fibre (CBF) for a number of reasons. First of all, CBF has several advantages over glass fibre, including its strength, chemical stability and heat resistance. Basalt – the raw material used to produce CBF – is also widely available at low cost. Over the past years, the development of CBF production technology and equipment has resulted in production costs as low as those of E-glass fibre.
CBF production technology involves the following steps: melting basalt rock into basalt melt, homogenizing and preparing basalt melt for production, forming basaltmelt through a platinum alloy stream bushing assembly, extracting the initial fibres, lubricating and winding on bobbins. All these steps are quite simple, with the aim being to ensure high-quality CBF, production stability and low production costs.
However, CBF production technologies also involve a number of difficulties. The various types of basalt rock used as raw material have differing characteristics and chemical structures. The melting and basalt melt forming stages require high temperatures, and basalt melts are not transparent to thermal radiation. The specific equipment and bushing assemblies used for CBF production are determined by technological features. While CBF production technologies seem to be simple, they are quite complex in practice and require a great deal of knowhow. To secure the industrial production of high-quality CBF, the whole range of technological features are to be considered in their complexity and special equipment needs to be designed.
Born in the 1960s
The first CBF samples were received in 1959-61 by the Ukraine scientific research institute in the former Soviet Union. The first continuous basalt fibres of satisfactory quality were produced with laboratory equipment in 1963. A great deal of work followed to develop CBF production technologies and equipment, to study fibre characteristics, to develop CBF material samples and to study their potential fields of application.
By 1985, the first industrial installation for CBF production was designed and commissioned in a factory near Kiev. Within several years, additional factories with annual outputs of 350 and 500 metric tons were built. They featured basalt melting furnaces equipped with two feed systems and platinum alloy bushings. The feed systems made it possible to produce high-quality fibres and were a significant step forward in the development of basalt technologies. But this equipment also had shortcomings, such as high energy consumption per unit produced, heavy bushings and rather low productivity.
In 1997, a new generation of CBF production technology and equipment based on a modular approach was designed in order to decrease energy consumption, lower equipment costs and make the bushings lighter. In August 1999, a delegation from a Japanese company manufacturing materials for the motor industry visited the Kiev factory.
JEC Composites Magazine: Do you know why CBF is not produced in large volumes worldwide?
Sergey Osnos: CBF industrial production has a short history of only 20 years. CBF technology was developed in the USSR. The initial industrial equipment was very expensive and energy-hungry. Thus, profitable CBF production was only possible in the Soviet Union and in other countries with cheap energy.Developing sound CBF industrial production required the design of new equipment with lower energy consumption. This kind of equipment was developed recently. It is now installed and used by four companies, making it possible to increase production output regularly.
JCM: Could you tell us why the USSR was the only country conducting research on CBF?
S. O.: Initially, CBF technology development in the USSR was a closed programme. Therefore, there was no contact with scientists and engineers from abroad. Then Owens Corning in the USA and the DBW Company in Germany began research on CBF. At the moment, South Korea, Austria and the USA are also working on CBF technology. The EU and various other countries also have basalt fibre research programmes.
JCM: Does CBF compete with glass fibre or any other type of fibre?
S. O.: CBF does not compete with fibre glass by any means. Its properties place it in between glass and carbon fibres. CBF has its own fields of application, which are determined by its special properties such as its chemical and thermal stability. It is also possible to produce composite materials combining carbon fibres and basalt fibres.According to certain estimates, the world’s annual production of glass fibre is 3.5-4 million metric tons. In contrast, CBF annual production is 3,000- 5,000 metric tons only, so there is obviously no competition between these two materials.
They were looking for a more heatresistant fibre for materials used in Toyota car mufflers. An agreement was signed and a Ukraine-Japanese joint-venture for CBF production was established in 2000. Modular industrial installations were developed and the company now produces 1,200 metric tons of CBF every year. After the Japanese, the Korean and the Chinese became interested in basalt technology and equipment. A new modular CBF installation with low energy consumption was developed and commissioned in Chengdu for the production of continuous basalt roving and CBF fabrics. The experience in China gave a new impetus to the development of basalt technologies. New types of basalts were tested for CBF production and new types of energy-saving equipment were developed and launched.
In 2006, Basalt Fibre & Composite Materials Technology Development Company, Ltd, a Ukrainian company, invented a new series of basalt equipment, which made it possible to reduce CBF production costs to a level comparable or even lower than that of E-glass fibre.
There are good prospects for increasing equipment output and further lowering production costs. Ultimately, the expansion of CBF production and application sectors will be determined by production costs and volumes. So far, there are only a few companies producing CBF. The demand for CBF and CBF materials is growing significantly every year, exceeding the existing offer by far. Developing CBF technology and equipment will make it possible to organize industrial production on a large scale.