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After the storm of the financial crisis, the market for carbon fibre should pick up again. Carbon fibre is in demand in a large number of segments – notably the industrial market – and the geographical distribution of demand is changing. One advantage of carbon fibre is that for certain components, its environmental impact is very low if you take their entire life cycle into account.
Demand for carbon fibre dropped in 2009, in lockstep with the global economy. Growth will remain feeble until 2012, and we won’t be seeing the 2008 level (30,000 metric tons) again before 2011. On the other hand, by 2015 the level should reach 60,000 metric tons (see Fig. 1).
Fields of application
The decline in demand from the aviation market can be explained by the decrease in build rates for commercial aircraft (mainly Airbus A320-A330/340), inventory adjustments at all levels, and production delays (Boeing B787). In Europe, the postponement of the A400M military aircraft, a large consumer of carbon fibre, is having a significant influence. Nevertheless, the growing use of carbon composite materials (up to more than 60% of the weight of an aircraft) is rather positive. The sports & leisure market is one of the oldest applications for carbon fibre, but it is experiencing only modest growth, as there are no new significant applications to be expected. China’s needs continue to grow, which is promising.
By 2015, what is called the “industrial” market will account for the majority of carbon needs, with more than 65%. There is a wide range of applications. Carbon fibre is, and will continue to be, used in the following sectors:
Geographically speaking, European demand is the highest and will remain so, as it is forecasted to reach 52% by 2015, compared to 18% for Asia, 15% for the United States and 15% for Japan (see Fig. 2).
If you compare the figures in Table 1 with those in the Carbon Report in the 51st issue (September 2009) of JEC Composites Magazine, you’ll notice a one-year time lag on the production capacity forecast for some companies. Common sense and bookkeeping needs made it necessary to shift the investments, although these still apply.
The world economy appears to be recovering at the pace forecasted by economists, and the carbon-fibre market is clearly tied into the world economy. However, the carbon-fibre market is likely to perk up with more than the proportional growth indicated by the 2015 forecast. By 2015, Europe alone could account for half of global carbon-fibre consumption. This can probably be attributed to the intent to target high-value-added composites specifically.
Along with the familiar uses for carbon and the more widespread use in sectors like the automotive industry, some new projects are stirring up interest. One of these is the Imperial College London’s work on the manufacture of automotive body components that also serve as batteries, where sandwich materials with carbon skins would function as capacitors.
So there are still many potential application areas for carbon.
We can also mention several potential other players for which we were not able to obtain any data: in China (Yingyou Group Corp. in Lianyungang, Sichuan Xinwanxing Group Ceramics, Sinosteel Jilin Carbon, Zhongfu Shenying Carbon Fiber, Anhui Xinfeng Carbon Fiber, Ji Ji Yan high tech fiber, Jilin Tangu Carbon Fiber and three other potential projects in the provinces of Shandong, Zhejiang and Guangxi), in India (project of Kemrock Industries and Exports), in Canada (project of Fiberex), in Russia (Argon), and in Saudi Arabia (project of SABIC in cooperation with Sipchem).
1: JEC’s estimation, not confirmed by companies
2: 8,750 tonnes are planned for 2012