Process parameters, especially in the thermal stabilization of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibers, play a critical role in controlling the cost and properties of the resultant carbon fibers. This study aimed to efficiently handle the energy expense areas during carbon fiber manufacturing without reducing the quality of carbon fibers. We introduced a new parameter (recirculation fan frequency) in the stabilization stage and studied its influence on the evolution of the structure and properties of fibers. Initially, the progress of the cyclization reaction in the fiber cross-sections with respect to fan frequencies (35, 45, and 60 Hz) during stabilization was analyzed using the Australian Synchrotron-high resolution infrared imaging technique. A parabolic trend in the evolution of cyclic structures was observed in the fiber cross-sections during the initial stages of stabilization; however, it was transformed to a uniform trend at the end of stabilization for all fan frequencies. Simultaneously, the microstructure and property variations at each stage of manufacturing were assessed. We identified nominal structural variations with respect to fan frequencies in the intermediate stages of thermal stabilization, which were reduced during the carbonization process. No statistically significant variations were observed between the tensile properties of fibers. These observations suggested that, when using a lower fan frequency (35 Hz), it was possible to manufacture carbon fibers with a similar performance to those produced using a higher fan frequency (60 Hz). As a result, this study provided an opportunity to reduce the energy consumption during carbon fiber manufacturing.
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