Carbon fiber is considered a magical material and is becoming increasingly popular among eyewear designers. When it comes to plastic frames, cellulose acetate is considered a superior material in the eyewear industry. Frame material does matter, not only in terms of getting an aesthetic look but also in terms of comfort and durability.
What Is Carbon Fiber?
Carbon fiber, also known as black gold or carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), is fibers made up of carbon atoms, which are extremely lightweight and ultra-thin. Its properties are nearly close to that of steel, and the weight is close to that of plastic. Carbon fiber is a composite material that is woven into sheets and bonded together with resin or epoxy. Its unique high tensile strength and low weight have made it possible for aircraft to become more fuel-efficient.
What Is Acetate?
Cellulose acetate is not an ordinary plastic and is used by many luxury eyewear brands to make their eyewear products. It is a plant-based plastic made from wood pulp or cotton combined with chemicals like acetic acid (vinegar), acetic anhydride, and sulphuric acid.
Carbon fiber is an incredible and extremely strong material. It is five times stronger and twice as hard as steel; and half the weight of titanium eyewear. It is the lightest of all the other materials available in the market. Acetate is 25% lighter than most metal frames and slightly heavier than carbon fiber.
The strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber is much higher than acetate. Carbon fiber frames are corrosion resistant, high-temperature resistant, radiation resistant, and low thermal expansion. Therefore, it won’t corrode, dissolve, or melt over time. But acetate frames lack these properties. However, the heat resistance of acetate ranges from fair to poor.
Acetate frames tend to be the most affordable whereas, carbon fiber is an expensive material, so frames made from it will cost on the higher side. Carbon fiber is a hypoallergenic material, which can offer the wearer the look of metallic eyeglasses without any allergies. Acetate is also a non-allergenic plastic and can manage to provide a comfortable and fresh look to the wearer.
Carbon fiber is resilient material so, it is difficult to process, and it takes time to produce high-quality carbon fiber eyewear. Acetate is thermoplastic, which means it is easy to process. It gets soft on heating and returns to a hardened state when cooled.
Ecological Impact & Sustainability
Carbon fiber and acetate are both marketed as eco-friendly by eyewear brands. But the question is to what extent are they biodegradable. Studies have proved that acetate can biodegrade, but it entirely depends on how and where it is discarded. Acetate is a semi-synthetic material, and before it is formed, several chemicals are added to the wood pulp or cotton.
Acetic acid and acetic anhydride are reportedly mild, but sulfuric acid can be dangerous at high concentrations and when heated. Phthalate plasticizers are added to acetate to increase its strength and stability. It is a petroleum-derived chemical that is considered a threat to the environment. That means it can contribute to microplastic pollution.
There is no doubt that acetate frames are always a better choice than virgin plastic. Acetate frames can be sustainable and ethical only if they are manufactured in a regulated environment or are expressly bio-acetate. Therefore, acetate frames are biodegradable to some extent, but carbon fiber frames are non-biodegradable.
It costs a ton of energy to produce carbon fiber, is 14 times as energy-intensive as producing steel, and the manufacturing process releases a significant amount of greenhouse gases. Carbon fiber recycling occurs in a process called pyrolysis, where it is heated to hot temperatures in an oxygen-free environment. After the process is complete, only the pristine carbon fiber remains, and all the excess material melts away.
An eyeglass frame typically lasts one to three years. There are a few factors that contribute to the condition of the frame such as sweat, temperature, and UV exposure. In most cases, an acetate frame lasts four to six years. If maintained well, it can last even longer. When the acetate frame is often exposed to UV light, its elasticity is reduced due to the softening agents leaving the material. And when the acetate frame wears out too much, it becomes very brittle, eventually changes its color, and loses its shiny appearance.
Carbon fiber has exceptional durability and does not fatigue, corrode, degrade, rust over time. It can last up to five to seven years if maintained well. Therefore, the carbon fiber frame is more durable than the acetate frame.
So, is carbon fiber a better alternative to acetate frames? Yes! Both materials have their own advantages and disadvantages. But in the end, it is the individual’s choice in terms of pricing and other factors. Because carbon fiber is an expensive material, takes a lot of time and energy in manufacturing and in the recycling process. But it all makes sense in the long run as it is extremely durable and good for the environment.