Graphitic carbon foams are a unique material form with very high structural and thermal properties at a light weight. A process has been developed to produce microcellular, open-celled graphitic foams. The process includes heating a mesophase pitch preform above the pitch melting temperature in a pressurized reactor. At the appropriate time, the pressure is released, the gas nucleates bubbles, and these bubbles grow forming the pitch into the foam structure. The resultant foamed pitch is then stabilized in an oxygen environment. At this point a rigid structure exists with some mechanical integrity. The foam is then carbonized to 800°C followed by a graphitization to 2700°C.
The shear action from the growing bubbles aligns the graphitic planes along the foam struts to provide the ideal structure for good mechanical properties. Some of these properties have been characterized for some of the foam materials. It is known that variations of the blowing temperature, blowing pressure and saturation time result in foams of variously sized with mostly open pores; however, the mechanism of bubble nucleation is not known. Therefore foams were blown with various gases to begin to determine the nucleation method. These gases are comprised of a variety of molecular weights as well as a range of various solubility levels. By examining the resultant structures of the foam, differences were noted to develop an explanation of the foaming mechanism.