Report: Hybrids will spur light-weighting

Eldib report predicts substantial use of glass and carbon fiber composites spurred by increased demand for hybrid and plug-in vehicles over the next several years.

Eldib Engineering & Research Inc. (Berkeley Heights, NJ) has completed a new market study on carbon fiber use in plug-in hybrid cars. The study indicates there is a race among seven or more major companies to get plug-in cars on the street in as soon as two years. This is turbocharging efforts to reduce vehicle weight. Auto producers globally appear more willing to accept higher costs of lightweighting materials.  This extends the driving range for a single battery charge and reduces battery cost in addition to reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

According to the Eldib study, competing for acceptance of the needed lighter materials are carbon fiber and glass fiber composites as well as high-performance steel, magnesium and aluminum.  Lower tooling costs for the low-volume introductory levels for this new class of electrically driven cars certainly favors composites over metals, says the report.

The Eldib report discusses the very large amounts of industrial grade carbon fiber capacity coming on stream starting around 2011 that is expected to fill the growing demand in hybrids, plug-ins and wind energy blades.  Eldib researchers report that an additional and very significant benefit of plug-ins is that the typical driver will draw most of his “fuel” from the power grid, which is likely to be sourced from gas, nuclear, or coal rather than from imported oil. Overall the source-to-wheel energy efficiency is improved from 13 percent for gasoline to an estimated 40 percent for most of the fuels used for supplying power to the grid.
Sale of hybrids and plug-in hybrids is predicted to reach 50 percent of car sales in 2015, and 85 percent in 2030. Plug-in hybrids will have significant sales beginning in 2011. Use of composites is predicted to rise accordingly, spurred in particular by increased plug-ins sales.  

Glass fiber composites in auto parts continue to be the primary reinforcing fiber, except for the carbon fiber in Formula 1 racing cars and high-cost performance cars. In these categories carbon fiber panels, parts, and chassis applications continue to grow, according to Eldib.

Major new capacity for industrial grade PAN-based carbon fiber is expected to come on stream in 2011 supplied by Chinese producers. With the rumored 40 percent increase in total global carbon fiber capacity, there is the expectation of aggressive marketing and associated price moves. In addition to the downward pressure on high-K industrial grade pricing, the supply cushion is expected to move carbon fiber towards being viewed as a commodity rather than a specialty raw material. Producers of auto parts claim that one of the resistance factors in acceptance of carbon fiber is that it is viewed as a specialty fiber and therefore associated with the supply disruptions such as occurred in 2003. This sort of a supply boost could be a shot in the arm and have game changing effect in increasing carbon fiber usage in autos, predicts Andrew Eldib.

Information: Contact Eldib for report information: (908) 464-2244 or