Going up?

A super-strong carbon fibre rope means a single lift shaft could soon extend more than a kilometer, effectively doubling the height of today’s tallest buildings such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai – which stands ‘only’ 828 meters tall. Anybody going up? We know we won’t be taking the stairs.

Super-strong carbon fibre ropes are anticipated to revolutionise lift construction and the design of skyscrapers by replacing the steel cable ropes that are used in lift design today. Today, lift shafts are only able to safely achieve heights of 500m as steel cables run the risk of snapping under their own weight at lengths beyond 500m. Additionally, the mass of the steel cables required to hoist a lift such distances results in a considerable expenditure of electrical power to operate the lift, thus making running costs extremely expensive. In order to overcome such constraints and push lift shaft heights above 500m, lift manufacturer KONE turned to the über material known as carbon fibre. Carbon fibres are not only lighter than steel, but they also have a greater tensile strength due to the ultra-strong bonds that occur between carbon atoms – which are similar to the type of bonds that are known for making diamonds so strong. KONE’s super-strong, carbon fibre rope called ‘UltraRope’ is made out of four bands of carbon fibres encased in an Epoxy coating (the formulation of which KONE is keeping secret), which increases friction while resisting wear and tear during usage.

KONE calculates that the amount of UltraRope required to hoist a lift within a 400m high shaft weighs 1,170 kg compared to a required 18,650 kg of conventional steel cable. KONE explains that such a reduction in weight leads to significantly reduced electrical power requirements as well as reduced utility bills and maintenance costs in tall buildings. For a theoretical 800-meter lift shaft, a steel cable system would weigh around 108,600 kg while an UltraRope system would weigh only 13,900 kg. The weight difference results in a huge potential reduction in energy expenditure and associated operating costs. Carbon fibre also possesses the added benefit of resonating at a different frequency than many other building materials such steel. As a result, UltraRope is able to provide better stability for the lift shaft and compartment on windy days than steel cable.

The UN reports that 200,000 people are born into or are moving into urban environments every day. High-rise buildings are seen as one way of coping with increasing demands for living space by the world’s increasingly urban environments. In many ways, ‘up’ is the way forward in the future and materials such as carbon fibre play a huge role in this.

You can read more about this material innovation here.