Basalt fibers are made of volcanic rock that is melted and spun. Global production capacity is increasing as they are becoming more popular for various structural engineering applications. Available products include rovings, ropes, textiles, mesh, rebar and others. One advantage over steel rebar is that basalt-based rebar will not rust.
This material was first developed in the Soviet Union, mostly for military applications. Ex-Soviet countries are still where most of the experience and production capacity is (Ukraine in particular). Given that the Soviet Union disintegrated almost 20 years ago, much of this information should be in the public domain now, but may not be so easily accessible. Those few companies that have the experience with this material are unlikely to share it.
Videos from the Monolithic Dome Institute
- Excellent overview article on MDI website
- Detailed background article about the material
- Wikipedia: Basalt Fiber
- More background, here with wind energy in mind
- Apparelsearch: Basalt (directory)
- Technobasalt (Kiev, Ukraine)
- Basalt Fiber and Composite Materials (Ukraine/China)
- Sudaglass (Texas/Russia)
- There is also a German-Georgian company, apparently the only manufacturer of basalt fibers in Europe: Deutsche Basalt Faser GmbH
Will it scale down?
While lava rock is common and cheap, the melting and spinning process may be difficult. Not all basalts work, and the material has to be heated up to 1,400°C (2,550°F), requiring natural gas or other energy source. This all sounds very capital intensive. Still, this can potentially be made to work on the small scale, and the fibers could displace some steel and even carbon fibers.
- Basalt can be heated with methane from biogas and also (at least pre-heated) with concentrating solar power.
- gasifier and syngas can be used for melting.
- induction furnace can melt glass, so it should also be able to melt basalt.
- these heat sources can all be used in combination
- there are many uses for waste heat: space heating, drying biomass, making steam
It is not clear that the properties of basalt fibers are really required for most applications. Bio-based fibers may also perform well, at much lower cost and embodied energy (e.g. hemp fibers).