Amazing Carbon Foam Doesn’t Take Much Bread

A lot of people knew the Space Shuttle had ceramic tiles to protect its nose from reentry heat. That’s mostly because the tiles fell off a lot and each one was a unique shape, so it got a lot of press coverage. However, you didn’t hear as much about the parts of the orbiter that got really hot: the forward part of the wings and the tip of the nose. For those, NASA used an exotic material called RCC or reinforced carbon-carbon. Other uses include missile nose cones and Formula One brakes. A similar material, carbon fiber-reinforced silicon carbide appears in some high-end car brakes. These materials can take high temperatures, easily.

[AvE] wanted to make some carbon foam for experiments. It does take a little bread, though. Not money, but literal bread. To create the foam, he burns bread slices in a chamber full of argon. The stuff has some amazing properties.

In the video below, you can see the foam protecting a thermocouple from a torch flame and even holding melting aluminum. Not bad for a few pieces of bread.

Building with carbon fiber has a lot of benefits. Graphene, another form of carbon, has many interesting properties too. Perhaps history will record that our time was the carbon age.

Thanks for the tip [Itay].

28 thoughts on “Amazing Carbon Foam Doesn’t Take Much Bread

        1. Heh, I am “off on one” thinking about using a high rising soda bread recipe, with calcium hydroxide instead of soda, about 25% or so diatomaceous earth 75% flour, dash of vinegar to fire up the rise, and maybe some chopped mineral wool for a bit of healthy fiber…. basically, trying to make frothy silicon cement carbon bread.

    1. As far as ease of manufacturing goes, you can’t beat putting dough in a tin. I wonder how it’ll compare to other materials, if it’s actually useful for anything? Would certainly be nice for a science demonstration, show a blowtorch that’s unable to melt a candle on the other side of some Science-Toast (TM, it’s new name).

      Obviously it’s gonna be brittle, but so is normal carbon, though not as much of course. Wonder how impregnating it with resin would affect it’s useful qualities?

  1. I wonder if wrapping it tightly in tinfoil is fairly effective… if I figure right, and you don’t start with super dry stale bread, most of the O2 will get displaced by steam at first, then pyrolisis gases.

    1. Ironically I used to attach crumpets to the outside of the Space Shuttle, just to get them nice and toasty. If some guys from NASA come round here later on, tell them you haven’t seen me.

      1. There is a pile of good stuff that he has done for YouTube, a lot of work to go through it all for the gems, but he has written a few books too. If you are after conductive inks etc. he is the person to contact, he will tell you how to make it, or you can buy some off him. Very much an open source chemistry thing going on there.

  2. I suspect that the tiles on the shuttle did not fall off, what actually happened was the foam nose cone broke away and scraped over the tiles, this in turn caused a kind of fluxing effect when the tiles became super heated and caused the tiles to then melt. I have done a similar thing in a forge that had material rated to 4000 degrees, was running it up and melted the material at a much lower temperature. was an expensive mistake.

  3. The CAIB report has a nice graph of shuttle tile damage on Columbia – any gouge 1″ or greater – and although there were hundreds of these on some missions, actual tile LOSS was always fairly small. I believe the worst tile loss was on the first mission, STS-1, where about 15 (that’s right – just 15) tiles were lost, and these were on the OMS pods. The biggest single episode of tile loss was when Columbia was brought from California to Florida aboard the SCA (747) prior to STS-1. If my memory is right, hundreds were lost. NASA investigated, blamed the bonding agent (glue), and many of the tiles were removed and re-bonded before Columbia’s first launch.

    1. It wasn’t just the move, although that was a problem, too. They had a lot of rework on STS-1. From Wikipedia:

      Tiles often fell off and caused much of the delay in the launch of STS-1, the first shuttle mission, which was originally scheduled for 1979 but did not occur until April 1981. NASA was unused to lengthy delays in its programs, and was under great pressure from the government and military to launch soon. In March 1979 it moved the incomplete Columbia, with 7,800 of the 31,000 tiles missing, from the Rockwell International plant in Palmdale, California to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Beyond creating the appearance of progress in the program, NASA hoped that the tiling could be finished while the rest of the orbiter was prepared. This was a mistake; some of the Rockwell tilers disliked Florida and soon returned to California, and the Orbiter Processing Facility was not designed for manufacturing and was too small for its 400 workers.[7]:83–87

      Each tile used cement that required 16 hours to cure. After the tile was affixed to the cement, a jack held it in place for another 16 hours. In March 1979 it took each worker 40 hours to install one tile; by using young, efficient college students during the summer the pace sped up slightly, to 1.8 tiles per worker per week. Thousands of tiles failed stress tests and had to be replaced. By fall NASA realized that the speed of tiling would determine the launch date. The tiles were so problematic that officials would have switched to any other thermal protection method, but none other existed.[7]:88–91

  4. Make a series of hollow cylindrical loaves, 8″ i.d., 14″ o.d. Heat as directed. Stack. Make two cylindrical loaves 14″ d., 3″ thick, for top and bottom. Heat as directed. Result: iron-melting furnace, just add gas burner.


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