New carbon fiber manufacturing ventures abound

New carbon fiber ventures from SABIC, Hyosung and SGL Group.

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Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) announced on June 15 that it has signed a technology agreement with acrylic manufacturer Montefibre SpA (Milan, Italy), granting SABIC and its affiliates an extensive international license on carbon fiber technology developed by Montefibre. It is presumed that Montefibre’s acrylic will be used to produce polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor for carbon fiber production. SABIC will first use the technology for a yet-to-be-built industrial-grade carbon fiber plant in Saudi Arabia. It will meet growing demand for carbon fiber and composites in alternative energy, transportation and infrastructure.

SABIC and Montefibre also signed a memorandum of understanding to study the feasibility of a new carbon fiber production plant in Spain. Integrated into Montefibre’s existing acrylic fiber production site, the plant will enable SABIC to accelerate product development and material qualification activities with customers and end-users.

The finished plant’s 3,000 metric tonnes (6.6 million lb) capacity will serve emerging local markets in the Middle East and international markets. “This carbon fiber project will be the basis for the creation of a world-class carbon composites value chain in Saudi Arabia,” commented Koos van Haasteren, executive VP, performance chemicals.

Meanwhile, on June 4, Hyosung (Gyeonggi-do, Korea) announced that it has successfully developed a carbon fiber product after three years of independent research. The company says it will invest 250 billion South Korean won ($231 million USD) to complete a carbon fiber plant at the Jeonju Eco High-Tech Complex by 2013, with a planned production rate of 2,000 metric tonnes (4.4 million lb) per year.

Reportedly, the plant will have a comprehensive production facility, with lines for precursors and carbon fibers. According to Tony Roberts, a senior advisor to Hyosung, the scale of the current annual world market is about 50,000 metric tonnes (110.2 million lb) or about $2 billion (USD), of which the Korean market makes up about 2,400 metric tonnes (5 million lb), with a rapid growth rate of more than 11 percent per year. In 2020, the market is expected to grow to about $5 billion, says Roberts.

“Because Hyosung has successfully developed carbon fibers,” says vice chairman Lee Sang-Woon, “Korea no longer has to rely on imports.”

In Europe, SGL Group - The Carbon Co. (Meitingen, Germany) officially inaugurated a state-of-the-art carbon fiber pilot plant at the Group’s central research facility in Meitingen on May 27. The new plant forms the core of the AirCarbon project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), in which European industrial partners led by SGL Group are, for the first time, developing high-strength carbon fibers for use in aerospace applications. The new plant represents an investment of €11 million ($15.6 million USD), says the company.