High strength, lightweight of carbon fibre drive strong demand growth in aircraft and auto manufacturing – IHS Markit


Led by industrial applications such as the manufacturing of aircraft, automobiles, pressure vessels, wind turbines and sporting goods, the global market for carbon fibres is growing dramatically at more than 8% per year through 2020, according to new research from IHS Markit, a world leader in critical information, analytics and solutions.

IHS Markit expects global consumption of carbon fibres to grow from over 60 thousand metric tonnes (TMT) in 2015, to approximately 90 TMT by 2020. Carbon fibres are lightweight, high-strength materials that serve as reinforcing agents in high-performance composites made from specialty epoxy resins and high-performance engineering thermoplastics.

“Major advances in technology and processing have dramatically expanded the demand for high-performance carbon fibres,” said Michael Malveda, director at IHS Markit, and lead analyst of the report entitled: Carbon Fibres: Chemical Economics Handbook. “And the introduction of higher-volume and lower-cost fibres, coupled with gains in productivity, has reduced the manufacturing costs of carbon fibres. Cost is a major factor affecting demand, and as costs come down, we are seeing demand growing significantly.”

Malveda said aircraft and automotive manufacturers, who face environmental and regulatory pressures to reduce weight, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, are helping drive demand growth for carbon fibres. Automotive and industrial/wind applications currently consume more than 60% of global carbon fibre demand, according to the IHS Markit study, and carbon fibre demand in this sector will grow at an average annual rate of nearly 9% during 2015 to 2020. World demand in aircraft and aerospace applications surpassed sporting goods/recreation to become the second-largest market for carbon fibres in 2011 to 2012, Malveda said.

“Carbon fibres are increasingly being used in commercial and military aircraft manufacturing,” he said. “They are used in the construction of the main body, the wings, engines, etc, and can result in less aircraft weight and lower fuel consumption. In addition, carbon fibre enables higher aircraft speeds and longer distance ranges.”

IHS Markit expects the commercial aircraft market to grow because of increases in airline passenger traffic, as well as the need to replace aging fleets. It is in the long-haul sector where the advantages of carbon fibre use are most pronounced. It also expects growth in carbon fibre consumption for the aircraft market to reach 9% per year through the 2020 study period, or more than 20 TMT by 2020, as compared to less than half that in 2012, Malveda said.

Despite strong growth of carbon fibres usage, limitations do exist, according to the IHS Markit study. For example, use in mass-produced automobiles will need to overcome higher production costs and/or processing technologies that can present certain challenges, and the quality and consistency of carbon fibre supply is very important.

“Automotive manufacturers are working with carbon fibre producers to help address production costs and quality standards, and lower costs will help manufacturers expand use of these materials to more of their models, beyond just the sports and specialty vehicle markets,” Malveda said.

North America and Western Europe are the largest markets for carbon fibres, accounting for more than 58% of world consumption in 2015. These two regions are the largest-volume consumers of carbon fibres in both aircraft/aerospace and industrial applications. China is expected to experience strong growth of 10 to 11% annually for carbon fibre consumption due to increasing government plans to use carbon fibres and composites, such as in wind turbine blades. However, China still faces challenges in developing domestic carbon fibre manufacturing capability, Malveda said.

Sporting goods and recreational manufacturing will consume more than 17% of carbon fibre demand by 2020. Asia accounted for 76% of world consumption of carbon fibres in sporting goods/recreation manufacturing in 2015, and the region will drive 80% of consumption for that use by 2020, according to the report.

There is a trend for carbon fibre production to be fully integrated from precursor raw materials into finished goods, IHS Markit said. For example, in Western Europe, producers have been investing into back integration such as polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor facilities, or expanding downstream with composite manufacturing plants.

Likewise, Toray, the world’s largest carbon fibre producer, has vertical production channels from precursor, through carbon fibres to carbon fibre-reinforced plastics (CFRP) on a global scale. In late 2015, the company signed a long-term agreement with Boeing to supply carbon fibre Torayca pre-pregs for the new Boeing 777X aircraft.

Malveda said several large auto manufacturers and carbon fibre producers formed partnerships in recent years that may lead to more mainstream use of the material in the future. For example, in 2015, Ford and DowAksa formed a joint-development agreement to further research high-volume production of automotive-grade carbon fibre. In 2009, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibres was formed as a joint venture between the BMW Group and the SGL Group. It is the exclusive supplier of carbon-fibre materials to the BMW Group for use in BMW’s i-series of electric/hybrid vehicles. In recent years, SGL Automotive has expanded its carbon fibre production capacity to meet increasing automotive demand.


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