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Home / Blog / Innovation : The Road Ahead for Carbon Fiber Composites

poly_blog_img.cf_-300x200Carbon fiber reinforced composites have found success in applications demanding the highest performance attributes where cost is less of a factor, such as aerospace and sports equipment. High volume applications remain on the horizon, but out of reach at current cost performance ratios. Several factors suggest that the automotive industry will be the market to take carbon fiber composites to the next level over the next 5 to 10 years.

According to Lux Research report, “Scaling Up Carbon Fiber: Roadmap to Automotive Adoption”, carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) will be a $6 billion market for automotive in the next decade.

“Current trends strongly indicate significant mainstream automotive adoption of CFRPs in the mid- 2020s and companies throughout the value chain must position themselves to take advantage of the coming shifts” said Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate, author of the report.

Future growth of the carbon fiber market will be driven in large part by emerging automotive applications and increasing vehicle standards.

Lightweighting Trends

In the past decade, automakers have been pressured to incorporate environmental objectives into their designs. Public interest and federal initiatives have led to increased standards in automotive fuel efficiency.

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards require increasing fuel economy to 54.5 mpg for cars and light duty trucks by 2025. As a result, manufacturers are incorporating new materials, including carbon fiber composites, to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, carbon fiber composites can:

  • Reduce passenger car weight by 50%
  • Improve fuel efficiency by 35%

BMW is one manufacturer on the carbon fiber trend. “We chose carbon fiber because for us, it’s the only lightweight material you can use in the automotive industry without any concessions to safety” said Manuel Sattig, BMW I series Project Manager.

While the automotive industry is now actively investigating high volume applications for carbon fiber composites, other industries are also looking closely at these new applications. The high volume automotive applications will drive cost performance improvements to the benefit of all markets.

For example, carbon fiber and its composites are being explored for its uses in off-shore drilling because of its corrosion resistance and light weight. Carbon fiber is three times as strong and twice as light as the lightest metals. As volume and technology drive costs down, carbon fiber composites will be substituted for traditional material such as steel, aluminum, concrete and even wood in a wide range of markets.

Where the Industry is Headed

The opportunity is there, but many technical challenges have to be overcome. Innovation and industry collaboration throughout the supply chain will be needed to realize the full potential of carbon fiber composites. Fortunately, there are already programs underway to address the challenges.

The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) recently held their inaugural meeting this June and released industry goals for advanced materials. Composite experts gathered and outlined carbon fiber as critical to technological advancement. In the next five years they plan for:

  • 25% lower CFRP costs
  • 50% reduction in CFRP embodied energy
  • 80% composite recyclability into new products

IACMI programs cover a wide range of technical challenges, including increasing carbon fiber production capacity, reducing fiber costs, improved composite fabrication technologies and computer modeling. In addition, a reduction in the life cycle of energy consumption is achieved by recycling CFRP

Check out these presentations released by IACMI to learn more.

Growing Partnerships

To hasten the development and reduce the cost of carbon fiber, manufacturers have been establishing close relationships with suppliers. The number of direct partnerships between auto manufacturers and their suppliers have nearly doubled to 11 partnerships since 2012, according to the Lux Research report.

Corporate partnerships include:

  • Ford Automotive has partnered with carbon supplier DowAska
  • BMW and SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers are joint-ventured to produce carbon fiber
  • Jaguar Land Rover collaborates with Cytec an aerospace composites supplier
  • Dailmer (Mercedes Benz) and Toray established a joint venture to produce CFRPs
  • General Motors has developed a ‘co-development pact’ with Teijin, a carbon fiber producer

It is clear that both the challenges and potential is great for carbon fiber composites. Working cooperatively in partnerships, and/or by supporting a program like IACMI is the best way for your company to remain on the leading edge of this opportunity.

Events

This market is predicted to continue on an uptick. Stay up to date and connect with others at industry events like this one. Register for the Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition in September, to learn about the latest lightweighting trends and opportunities to network across the industry.

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