Carbon fiber update: Fiber sources gear up for expected increase in demand

Currently, the market for carbon fiber composites is estimated at $10 billion (USD) globally, and observers expect that it could reach as high as $40 billion by 2022.

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Currently, the market for carbon fiber composites is estimated at $10 billion (USD) globally, and observers expect that it could reach as high as $40 billion by 2022. Aspiring and established carbon fiber manufacturers and a variety of marketing partners are positioning themselves to meet the vastly increasing need for raw fiber and fibrous reinforcement products.

The Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Mich.), through its wholly owned subsidiary Dow Europe Holding BV, and carbon fiber producer Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii A.Ş. (Istanbul, Turkey) announced in late June the formation of DowAksa Advanced Composites Holdings BV, a 50/50 joint venture (JV) to manufacture and commercialize carbon fiber and derivative products. Aksa and Dow had previously signed a definitive agreement to form the JV on Dec. 20, 2011. DowAksa will develop and globally market a broad range of products and provide technical service and support, with emphasis on industrial applications, including energy, transportation and infrastructure.

Aksa’s carbon fiber has been produced since 2009 in its factory in Yalova, Turkey. The JV will expand on existing carbon fiber production assets in Yalova and will capture growth by creating a large-scale, integrated production capability for the manufacture and supply of advanced carbon fiber technologies.

Aksa board chairman Mehmet Ali Berkman said, “Aksa took steps in 2011 in the carbon fiber sector to increase market share through investment in manufacturing capacity and productivity. With the formation of the joint venture, we are pleased that our carbon fiber technologies and production capabilities in Turkey will be essential to DowAksa’s future as a world leader in advanced carbon fiber and derivatives.”

Elsewhere, Toho Tenax Co. Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan), the core company of the Teijin Group’s carbon fibers and composites business, announced on June 20 that it will develop and market carbon fiber fabrics for India’s composites industry in collaboration with Hindoostan Technical Fabrics Ltd. (Mumbai, India), a carbon and aramid textile manufacturer that is wholly owned by Hindoostan Mills Ltd., a major textile company in India and part of the Mumbai-based Thackersey Group. This will be the first time Toho Tenax has partnered with a textile manufacturer in India’s carbon fiber sector. Under the agreement, Toho Tenax will supply its proprietary Tenax carbon fiber to Hindoostan Technical Fabrics for weaving and processing. The two companies will jointly market the resulting fabrics to Indian manufacturers of composite materials and reinforced sheets that serve industrial segments, including transportation, aerospace and railway; wind power; sports and leisure; medical equipment; construction reinforcement and retrofitting; and electronics (i.e., computer and mobile phone housings).

Already a supplier of chopped carbon fiber to India, Toho Tenax says India’s composites industry has recorded robust growth — about 20 percent per annum in the past five years. The company is preparing to meet the surging demand for intermediate-modulus material, including prepregs. “We believe that India’s carbon fiber composite industry is in its infancy and has substantial growth potential. Our collaboration with Toho Tenax, an industry leader in carbon fiber technology, will play a pivotal role in providing users with high-quality, customized and competitive carbon fiber fabrics with reliable supply and strong application support,” says Sudhir Thackersey, Hindoostan’s chairman.

In other carbon news, Bloomberg reported on July 11 that Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo, Japan), the world’s largest producer of carbon fiber, will seek as much as ¥70 billion ($895.5 million USD) in additional financing during this fiscal year (ending March 2013) to fund growing fiber manufacturing activities. This is up from ¥60 billion ($767.4 million) in the previous period, according to Mitsuharu Mano, the company’s finance general manager. Toray sold 10-year bonds valued at ¥20 billion ($255.86 million) on July 11 in its first offering of nonconvertible notes in nine years. Bloomberg reported that the demand for lightweight materials for use in automobiles and aircraft is expected to boost Toray’s annual sales to ¥2 trillion ($25.58 billion) in about three years. That, said the company, in May, was up 16 percent from the forecast for that period.
“Aggressive capital spending is at the center of our current business plan,” Mano said in a Bloomberg interview. “We need money to fund expansion of facilities.” In April, Toray began a three-year, ¥350 billion ($4.47 billion) capital spending plan aimed at boosting sales of carbon fiber and its mainstay synthetic fiber.

One day earlier, SGL Group – The Carbon Co. (Wiesbaden, Germany) reported that it had completed the acquisition of an additional 10.8 percent stake in the Portuguese company Fisipe (Fibras Sintéticas de Portugal SA, Lisbon, Portugal) from the previous shareholder, Quimifértil, and as a result, it now holds a 97 percent stake in the company. The transaction was approved by the Portuguese securities commission. In April 2012, SGL acquired an 86 percent stake in Fisipe from the previous major shareholder, Negofor. With this transaction, SGL Group is expanding its production network to ensure an adequate supply of raw materials for carbon fiber production. This will include an additional production facility for precursors.

Some textile fiber production lines at the Fisipe site will be converted into precursor lines and gradually expanded. At the same time, the facility will continue to manufacture and sell acrylic fibers for special textile and technical applications. 

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