Fiber demand and supply
Industry statistics for carbon fiber supply and demand are in flux, as all fiber manufacturers have announced major expansion programs and new suppliers are entering the industry. Estimates of annual worldwide demand for continuous, PAN-based carbon fiber exceeded 27,000 metric tonnes (60 million lb) in 2006 and demand is expected to grow at least 15 percent per year. Current industry capacity is estimated at around 45,500 metric tonnes (100 million lb) for conventional tows and large tows combined. When all of the announced capacity expansions go on line, total nameplate capacity should be 76,000 metric tons (168 million lb) by 2010.
Historically, carbon fiber markets have gone through boom/bust cycles, making it difficult for fiber manufacturers to predict capacity needs. Aerospace and high-volume sporting goods markets have consumed the majority of prepregs made with standard/intermediate tensile modulus, and small-tow (1K to 12K) carbon fiber. 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. The aerospace market has rebounded strongly, thanks to programs such as Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, and as segments such as industrial applications for fiber multiply, the market for carbon fiber is strong. This time, it appears that new capacity additions will keep pace.
Forecasting 15 percent growth in demand per year, Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan) has expanded all of its facilities, including those in Japan, the U.S. and at its French subsidiary, SOFICAR. The company is a major supplier of carbon fiber prepreg materials to Boeing for the 787, and it announced yet another expansion of its fiber capacity in late November 2007 in response to talks with Boeing, to ensure supply for the aircraft as production ramps up. The new announcement will bring its total worldwide nameplate capacity to 24,000 metric tonnes (52.8 million lb) by 2010.
Toho Carbon Fibers Inc. (Menlo Park, Calif.) announced further expansions in October 2007, including a new fiber line at Wuppertal, Germany, slated for startup in mid-2009. Cytec Industries Inc. (West Paterson, N.J.) announced in 2007 that it will double its existing capacity by early 2010, once 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 is proceeding with construction of its new fiber plant in Madrid, Spain as well as another new line at its Salt Lake City, Utah facility. A new precursor line also will be constructed. The new capacity will bring Hexcel's total capacity to 7,300 metric tonnes (16 million lb) by the end of 2009. Mitsubishi Rayon (Tokyo, Japan), which recently built a new 5 million lb line in Japan, has again announced expansion, this time a 2,700 metric ton (6 million lb) line at its Otake production center, scheduled for startup in late 2009. Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics also has expanded, with production expected to reach about 5,000 metric tonnes (11 million lb) sometime in 2008. Zoltek recently acquired the assets of a Mexico-based acrylic fiber manufacturer, Cydsa, which it plans to retool and modify to produce precursor. Zoltek also plans to produce 2,250 metric tonnes (5,000,000 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 and Yingyou Group Corp. are two Chinese companies reportedly producing carbon fiber, with a combined output of about 820 metric tonnes (1.8 million lb). Fiberglass producer Fiberex (Leduc, Canada) may begin producing carbon fiber in Canada within the next few years, and other fiber startups are reportedly underway in Saudi Arabia and India.
Demand for other advanced fibers is increasing as well. Continued security concerns worldwide have stimulated growth in the market for armor products, prompting increased production of aramid and polyethylene fibers. DuPont Advanced Fibers Systems (Richmond, Va.) has significantly increased production of its DuPont Kevlar aramid fiber by more than 25 percent, with a $500 million capacity expansion announced in September 2007 that is scheduled to come online by 2010 - the largest expansion in Kevlar history says the company. Teijin Aramid (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 tonnes (50.7 million lb) per year in Emmen and Delfzijl, in The Netherlands. Start-up is expected by the second half of 2008.
Despite the tendency for "promising"market applications in the composites industry to remain out on the horizon - never quite within reach - the future, overall, bodes well. Continued automation, streamlining of composite manufacturing methods and new material forms should make composites more user-friendly - not to mention more cost-effective - encouraging their use in greater quantities in existing markets and making them even more attractive to new industrial and consumer-driven markets.