Supply and demand: Advanced fibers

Manufacturers of carbon and other advanced fibers respond to sustained composites industry growth with new fiber production capacity.

Historically, carbon fiber markets have gone through boom/bust cycles, making it difficult for fiber manufacturers to predict capacity needs. From 2001 through 2003, carbon fiber demand dipped, as economies in the U.S. and Western Europe slowed significantly, but recovery and growth was the norm in 2004 through 2006. Demand is now up and continuing to rise, making the slump a memory. Aerospace and high-volume sporting goods markets have traditionally consumed the majority of prepregs made with standard/intermediate tensile modulus, and regular-tow (1K to 24K) carbon fiber. The aerospace market is posting unprecedented growth, thanks to programs such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and Airbus’ A350. Additionally, fast-growing wind energy and industrial segments are competing for fiber. As a result the market for carbon fiber is strong and, this time, it appears that the demand is established. Financial conditions at SB press time, however, were prompting OEM program delays or scale-backs. In the 2008 to 2010 time frame, the worldwide annual demand for continuous, PAN-based carbon fiber is estimated at about 50,000 metric tonnes (110 million lb) and is expected to double by the year 2020.

In response, carbon fiber manufacturers are in the midst of major expansion programs and new suppliers are entering the industry. When these expansions come on line in 2009, industry capacity will be around 76,000 metric tonnes (167.2 million lb) for conventional tow and large tow combined. Additional capacity will come online, beginning in 2010, according to some suppliers. Yet some observers warn that even with the announced expansions (enumerated below), fiber suppliers will have difficulty keeping pace.

Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan), with a 34 percent global market share in early 2008, forecasts that its carbon fiber sales will double to $1.4 billion by 2010. With a $6 billion, 14-year contract in place with The Boeing Co. (Seattle, Wash.) to supply carbon fiber/epoxy prepregs for the 787 program, it is in the process of expanding all of its facilities to a total nameplate capacity to 24,000 metric tonnes (52.8 million lb) by 2010. 

Toho Tenax (Wuppertal, Germany) will have a capacity of 13,500 metric tonnes (30 million lb) by mid-2009. The company’s former Fortafil large-tow production in Tennessee has been converted to 24K tow. Cytec Industries Inc. (West Paterson, N.J.) announced in 2007 that it will double its existing capacity by early 2010, when its new plant in South Carolina comes on stream. Cytec has confirmed that the new line will consist of small tow, from 3K to 24K. Hexcel’s (Dublin, Calif.) new fiber plant in Madrid, Spain as well as another new line at its Salt Lake City, Utah facility and a new precursor line will bring the company’s total capacity to 7,300 metric tonnes (16 million lb) by mid-2009. Mitsubishi Rayon (Tokyo, Japan), which recently built a new 5 million lb (2,268 metric tonne) line in Japan, has announced another expansion, this time a 2,700 metric tonne (6 million lb) line at its Otake, Japan production center, scheduled for startup in late 2009. It will produce new 50K to 60K, PAN-based high-quality Pyrofil P330 fibers for industrial markets. Taipei, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics also has expanded, with production expected to reach about 7,300 metric tonnes (16 million lb) sometime in 2010. Zoltek Inc. (St. Louis, Mo.) recently acquired the assets of a Mexico-based acrylic fiber manufacturer, Cydsa, which it has retooled and modified to produce PAN precursor. With four carbonization lines now running at the facility, Zoltek is ramping up to produce 2,250 metric tonnes (5 million lb) of large tow fiber at the facility within the next few years. Meanwhile, SGL Carbon (Wiesbaden, Germany) is building a third major production line at its Inverness, Scotland facility, which should come on line by the end of 2008. The company says it plans to add more fiber lines in Germany, tripling its current capacity by 2012.

Joining these established producers are several new players: Dalian Xingke Carbon Fiber (Dalian City, China) and Yingyou Group Corp. (Lianyungang, China) are two that are reportedly producing carbon fiber, with a combined output of about 820 metric tonnes (1.8 million lb). At least three more Chinese entities, in Shandong, Zhejiang and Guangxi provinces, have been reported to be developing carbon fiber production. AKSA (Istanbul, Turkey) is now producing pilot quantities of AKSACA 12K and 24K carbon fiber from acrylic precursor and has committed to 1,800 metric tonnes (4 million lb) by the third quarter of 2009. Kemrock Industries and Exports Ltd. (Vadodara, India) has won from the Indian government a contract to manufacture carbon fiber and expects to begin production in April 2009 at the company’s manufacturing plant in Vadodara. When completed, the facility will have an estimated annual capacity of 650 metric tonnes (1.43 million lb), producing 3K, 6K, and 12K carbon fiber tows. Fiberglass producer Fiberex (Leduc, Alberta, Canada) could begin producing carbon fiber in Canada within the next few years, and another fiber startup is reportedly underway in Saudi Arabia.

Demand for other advanced fibers is increasing as well. Continued security concerns have stimulated growth in the armor market, prompting increased production of aramid and polyethylene fibers. DuPont Advanced Fibers Systems (Richmond, Va.) has increased production of its DuPont Kevlar aramid fiber by more than 25 percent, with a $500 million (USD) capacity expansion announced in September 2007. This new production capacity is scheduled to come online by 2010 and, according to the company, is the largest expansion in Kevlar history. Competitor TEIJIN ARAMID BV (Arnhem, The Netherlands), formerly Teijin Twaron, now produces four brands of aramid fiber, including Twaron, Technora, Sulfron and Teijinconex. With the new name, the company also plans to extend its product range. It is in the midst of a $222 million expansion to boost its Twaron capacity by 15 to 20 percent from 23,000 metric tonnes (50.7 million lb) per year in Emmen and Delfzijl, in The Netherlands. Startup is expected by the second half of 2008.

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