Black Art of Carbon Production
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Union Carbide sent their new turbojet airplane to take me to their factory in the TVA region of Tennessee to meet with their engineers and top brass. I was aware that NASA had rejected the use of beryllium as the heat shield on their manned reentry capsule and had selected a resin-bonded fiberglass of some type. We had long discussions about methods to use these new fibers with resins or pitch to produce aerospace products.
This was my first time to see the black art of carbon production. It was really quite simple mix coke and scrap graphite powder with hot petroleum pitch and extrude it into round parts using a massive hydraulic press. The first step was to coke the pitch in large gas fired ovens. The final step was to convert the product to graphite in massive stacks where the product was the resistor being heated to 5,000 F. Union Carbide used power when the TVA system had excess and therefore obtained a very low rate.
We had long discussions about methods to use these new fibers with resins or pitch to produce superior carbon products. It was clear to me that these new carbon fibers could be laid up in multiple directions using pitch as the binder. Fiberglass technology was the pattern and the old black art Union Carbide already possessed could be improved using induction-heating facilities like those I had built at Beryllium.
It was then I learned that the samples of cloth were produced in a laboratory from rayon fibers and the total inventory in the world was less than 100-pounds. The company was planning production facilities for the future and one of the first items would be carbon insulation produced from rayon felt. My pitch to become an employee of Union Carbide to lead this project fell on deaf ears. I was not qualified in their mind.