Industrial carbon fiber manufacturer DowAksa (Istanbul, Turkey), a joint venture of acrylic specialist AKSA (Istanbul, Turkey) and chemical giant Dow (Midland, Mich., USA), announced on Oct. 28 at a company event in Atlanta, Ga., USA, that it plans to establish an industrial-grade carbon fiber manufacturing operation in the United States sometime in the next three to five years to support the automotive, infrastructure, wind and industrial markets. To start the effort, the company is establishing DowAksa USA, which will be based in Marietta, Ga., and led by U.S. general manger Eric Coleman.
Kostas Katsoglou, DowAksa CEO, told CompositesWorld (CW) that his company believes that "the carbon fiber market in the U.S. is about to explode. It is essential for us to have a permanent presence in the U.S." Katsoglou said DowAksa is in the process of evaluating potential locations for the plant.
The type and quantity of industrial-grade carbon fiber to be produced by the prospective facility are not yet determined, Katsoglou said. "We will start with a prepreg line and depending on market developments, we will continue with the manufacture of dry carbon fiber and possibly precursor," he noted. Katsoglou says the facility’s size and function will be determined by DowAksa’s automotive strategy, which seeks to establish with potential customers — automotive OEMs — a partnership in which the customer's applications help determine the type of product DowAksa produces. DowAksa's intent, he says, is to be fully integrated in the supply chain. "This thing [manufacturing facility] will happen pretty soon," he said. "We are working on multiple relationships, which will determine type of carbon fiber. Everything is on the table."
Marco Barsacchi, DowAksa CTO, said the company plans, through the new facility, to address the full spectrum of composites manufacturing with its OEM customers, providing design, engineering, processing and technical services. Along these lines, Coleman noted that "no one else can impact molecule-to-market the way DowAksa can," meaning that the company offers the raw materials and applications engineering expertise required to help bring a composite structure or component to market quickly and efficiently. Coleman added that AKSA's ample supply of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor offers DowAksa unusual scale-up flexibility in the plant's capacity.
DowAksa already has an automotive composites relationship with which to work. Dow, in 2012, established a joint development agreement with automaker Ford Motor Co. to develop low-cost carbon fiber composites for high-volume automotive manufacturing use. Other automotive OEMs, in the U.S. and Europe, are being targeted by DowAksa as well, Katsoglou said.
Katsoglou's belief in the promise of the carbon market rests in part on increased composites use in automotive applications, triggered by efficiency and emissions regulations in the U.S. and Europe, and enabled by decreasing carbon fiber costs. Over the last year, he noted, DowAksa has optimized its carbon fiber manufacturing process in Turkey to help reduce production costs by 15 percent. Further optimization, he said, will make carbon cost-competitive with legacy materials like steel, thus removing one of the major hurdles to widespread automotive carbon fiber adoption. "The issue of cost is an industry issue that we will solve," Katsoglou said.
Beyond automotive, DowAksa has its eyes on the infrastructure and wind markets as well. The company acquired in 2013 CarbonWrap, which provides dry and wet carbon fiber fabric and epoxy solutions and engineering services for bridge, building, structure and pipe rehabilitation and reinforcement. DowAksa is also working with Energetx Composites (Holland, Mich., USA) on the development of a material-enabled automated manufacturing process that uses the VIPER tape layer (made by Fives Cincinnati, based in Hebron, Ky., USA) to efficiently and quickly fabricate carbon fiber wind blade spars.
Katsoglou acknowledged that DowAksa's plans are ambitious, but said he his convinced that the time is right for such a commitment to the carbon fiber composites manufacturing market. "On the one hand we are excited," he said. "On the other, we know we have a large mountain to climb."