Carbon Fiber elevator cables will take us higher
One of the factors limiting the height of current sky-scrapers is, incidentally, how high elevators can travel. Traditional steel elevators hit their operational ceiling at 500-meters. The sheer weight of steel cables at that length limits their ability to support an elevator. For example people hoping to ascend to the top of Dubai’s 828-meter Burj Khalifa, pictured above, have to switch elevators multiple times to complete the trip.
Looking forward, at least one leader in the elevator industry hopes to rewrite this rule. Finland’s Kone recently unveiled their new UltraRope, a product they hope will replace the old steel cables hampering design flexibility. A super-light flat ribbon rope with a carbon fiber core and a specialized high-friction coating. Kone claims UltraRope is twice as strong as traditional steel cables yet will last longer and be 90% lighter. Additional benefits of UltraRope include a reduction of maintenance since lubrication isn’t necessary. Kone has been testing UltraRope for several years in real elevators and in a company-owned 333-meter-deep mineshaft.
In addition to raising the ceiling for architects, UltraRope equipped elevators may also shut down less than their steel-cable equipped brethren. Currently elevators in extra-tall buildings are frequently shut down during high winds. Tall buildings are designed to sway with the wind, which causes steel cables to resonate and set the elevators in motion. Since carbon fiber doesn’t resonate in the same frequency as most building materials, elevators strung from UltraRope should remain steadier when the rest of the building is swaying.
Pricing for UltraRope and it’s related equipment hasn’t been released as of yet, but the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in Chicago, IL has already endorsed the product. Speaking of the product, Executive Director Antony Wood noted, “I think it’s the biggest single breakthrough in the elevator industry since the advent of the safety elevator 150 years ago. It’s going to enable more efficient, higher buildings in the places that warrant those buildings, but it’s going to result in better energy efficiency in all tall buildings around the world.”
There are currently at least 20 buildings on architects’ drawing boards worldwide, that will top the 500-meter mark. As more expected megacities proliferate, these and others could integrate this new technology. One currently planned building, the Azerbaijan Tower, is scheduled to begin construction in 2015. Measuring in at 1,050-meters, the $3 billion dollar tower might be a candidate for UltraRope.