Australian scientists say they have cracked the secret code to make a new carbon fiber they claim is likely to be the world’s strongest, lightest version of the expensive material.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) worked with researchers from Deakin University to uncover the closely guarded secret recipe needed to make the precursor – the material use to start producing carbon fiber.

Carbon fiber is far stronger than steel and just a fraction of its weight. But it’s expensive to make and its price means auto-industry use is restricted to luxury models and race cars.

Elsewhere it is in demand from the aerospace, civil engineering, military and competitive sports sectors.

Only a handful of companies around the world can create the precursor from scratch.

“Our researchers, together with researchers from Deakin University, are now members of this elite club of secret recipe makers,” the CSIRO says.

Using patented CSIRO technology, they worked out a way to reverse-engineer the material and cracked the secret code to make a new carbon-fiber mix. In the process, they say they created a way to control a substance’s molecular structure.

The CSIRO/Deakin’s so-called wet spinning-line machinery was custom-built by an Italian company with input from the two organizations’ researchers. The machinery takes a sticky mix of precursor chemicals and turns it into 500 individual strands of fiber, each thinner than a human hair.

They’re then wound onto a spool to create a tape and taken to massive carbonization ovens to create the finished carbon fiber.

CSIRO has launched a new carbon-fiber facility at Deakin with the custom-built machinery.

CSIRO Future Industries Director Anita Hill says the development is an important milestone.

“This facility means Australia can carry out research across the whole carbon-fiber value chain – from molecules, to polymers, to fiber, to finished composite parts,” Hill says in a statement. “Together with Deakin, we’ve created something that could disrupt the entire carbon-fiber-manufacturing industry.”