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Carbon fiber cuts cellphone weight, thickness with sustainable design

Friedrichshafen, Germany — Berlin-based startup company Carbon Mobile GmbH used Lanxess Tepex Dynalite fine 1K continuous carbon-fiber-fabric-reinforced thermoplastic to produce the monocoque structure housing on its new Carbon 1 Mark II cellphone.

Carbon Mobile founder and CEO Firas Khalifeh called it “the world’s first mobile phone powered by carbon-fiber technology, the result of material science and German engineering colliding.”

He points out: “In an industry that is stagnating, we are inspired not by the materials used today, but by the materials of tomorrow.”

His company states that should all smartphones be made one day in the way of the Carbon Mobile cellphone, up 100,000 tons per year of resources could be saved worldwide.

Carbon Mobile has partnered with CleanHub to become the first electronics company to commit to removal of at least 5 tons of plastic waste from the sea. Until the company can guarantee CO2-free cellphone deliveries, it will use Cloverly to offset CO2 with tree planting.

He rates the cellphone’s use of real visible carbon fiber as putting it into an entirely different league than conventional phones with their “fake carbon appearance and throwaway plastics.”

He considers the material “highly valuable, as unlike cheap throwaway plastic housings, it contains less than 5 percent plastic and can be recycled by being broken down into its raw materials.”

Carbon Mobile was founded in 2016.

The company exists, Khalifeh said, to change things for the better and to preserve the planet with devices that are thinner. Led by the Bauhaus principle of “form follows function,” he said, “we have crafted devices where beauty is combined with incredible strength.”

He likens Carbon Mobile in its sector as being similarly innovative as Tesla has been in electric cars.

By exploiting the light weight and high strength of the carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite, Carbon Mobile has brought a phone to the market that at 125 grams is 23 percent lighter than the competition at an average of 182 grams, while with thickness of 6.3 millimeters, it is 25 percent thinner than other 6-inch-screen cellphones.

“We only use what is strictly necessary to save every gram and millimeter,” Khalifeh said. The phone does not have an interior steel frame, like conventional phones, thanks to the robustness of the carbon-fiber housing, he said.

Established players in the cellphone industry were skeptical, Khalifeh said.

“We were told time and again that carbon fiber is an impossible dream for cellphones, too expensive and its electrical conductivity making it unusable for electronic devices,” he said. It was thought that the Faraday cage effect would make the experience “like calling from a cellphone in an elevator,” he said.

But the conductivity problem has been overcome by development of HyRECM hybrid radio-enabled composite material technology that fuses carbon fibers together with radio-enabled glass fiber. The material enables radio frequency signal permeation, while conductivity is provided where needed for the antenna support system by use of a 3D inkjet printed conductive ink, which Khalifeh said also eliminates radio frequency noise.

Cost has been decreased by reducing production time from the three hours down to 30 minutes today in a hybrid molding process with “the finest of materials sourced from Germany, resulting in a beautifully crafted device finished with a coating from Switzerland.”

While Hong Kong-based Modern Composites Ltd. initially made the phone moldings, Khalifeh said production is shifting to Germany by the end of the year.

This is the “European answer to the tech sector currently dominated by Asian and U.S. suppliers,” Khalifeh said.

Carbon Mobile has also started talking about work that will lead to the world’s first smartphone in bio-based carbon fibers in 2022. This would already involve carbon-fiber produced from precursors made from wood, flax or algae sources.

Lanxess had the Carbon 1 Mark II on display at the Fakuma trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

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