The Noble M600 supercar features British automaker Nobel's first CFRP body.
The Noble M600 supercar features British automaker Nobel's first CFRP body.

Carbon fibre supplier SGL Group of Germany announced in its latest financial report in November that, despite a recent recovery in demand, the market for carbon fibre continues to face temporary overcapacities due to the numerous delays in new aircraft projects, delayed investments in wind energy, as well as declining demand in sports and consumer applications.

“This has resulted in an increased competitive environment with temporary negative impact on prices and volumes,” relates SGL. “The recent increase in demand, however, has led to prices stabilising, albeit at still unsatisfactory levels. Further price increases are necessary in 2011,” the report notes. The company also says that in recent months it has improved the structure of its precursor supply with the addition of two independent production sites.

Long delays in Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner programme have contributed to the supply and demand imbalance. Boeing announced in January that it expects delivery of the first Dreamliner in the third quarter of this year. The 787 programme has been gradually returning individual aircraft to the flight test programme. Four have been subjected to extensive ground testing and a thorough review to ensure their readiness to return to flight, says Boeing.

Demand on upswing

Leading US carbon fibre supplier Zoltek, while reporting a loss in the first quarter, reports that sales for the quarter were up 14%, reflecting business with new customers, which offset soft demand from large wind energy customers.

“Worldwide, we are seeing the beginning of a strong resurgence in demand for carbon fibres from wind energy, our primary application area,” noted Zoltek Chairman and CEO Zsolt Rumy.

He reports that over the past two years, there has been a great deal of progress in wind energy in China, India and other countries as high-tech companies have moved in the direction of larger and more efficient wind turbines.

“Wind energy is continuing to go global and entering a new phase of rapid growth,” adds Rumy, noting that Zoltek produces the majority of commercial carbon fibres used in the super-long blades that power advanced wind turbines.

Toray Industries recently announced that it has decided to resume construction of a carbon fibre production facility in Japan in anticipation of a recovery in demand. The new plant is expected to go online in September 2012. Toray and its Korean subsidiary are also building a carbon fibre production plant in Korea to ensure a stable domestic supply there. It is expected to go online in 2013.

In January, Toray and Daimler AG announced a joint venture to manufacture and market carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) automotive parts. Toray has been working on design and moulding processes, while Daimler is taking responsibility for designing parts and developing technologies for joining of the parts, the companies announced. The result is said to be an innovative technology for mass production of CFRP parts with a significantly shorter moulding cycle. Toray is also heavily invested in aerospace, having signed a 16-year contract in 2006 worth at least US$6 billion to supply CFRP materials to Boeing’s Dreamliner programme.

Mitsubishi Rayon Company’s Carbon Fibres and Composite Materials business suffered a loss in 2010, but the company has decided to resume work on an additional carbon fibre plant, which will add annual capacity of 2700 tons. Construction had been suspended pending a recovery in demand. Last year the company formed a business alliance with SGL Group to produce precursors for the manufacture of carbon fibres and fabrics for the BMW Megacity vehicle.

US carbon fibre supplier Hexcel reported improved sales in its 4th quarter report, noting that a significant number of orders received in 2010 by its commercial aerospace and wind customers, provided a “much improved environment for our markets.” Chairman and CEO David Berges notes: “We are pleased with our 2010 results, especially since we started the year with a great deal of uncertainty about the direction of our core markets.” Hexcel expects sales to continue rising in 2011.

In Turkey, carbon fibre producer AKSA Akrilik Kimya has decided to increase the annual capacity of its existing line by 300 tons and to build a second line to add 1700 tons of capacity. In India, Kemrock Industries and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd recently announced plans to form a joint venture to develop and manufacture CFRP prepregs for aerospace and defence applications.

This article is an extract from the feature Carbon fibre market poised for expansion published in the March/April 2011 issue of Reinforced Plastics magazine. Read the complete feature here.