There has been talk recently that carbon fiber is on its way out as a space-age replacement of steel and aluminum. Those with a negative outlook on carbon fiber often point to industries that have tried to integrate the material into existing operations but failed. What they don’t acknowledge is that there are other industries that are now thriving because they have adopted carbon fiber. Those industries prove that carbon fiber still sells in the right markets.
Carbon fiber remains a popular material for all sorts of manufacturing and industrial applications. So much so that Japan’s Toray Industries recently announced a $180 million investment in two plants operating in Mexico and Hungary. The company will be using the money to increase capacity in both plants. Indeed, they intend to increase annual capacity by 5,000 tons at each location.
Who’s Buying Carbon Fiber
The Asian Review reports that Toray’s current capacity is about 50,000 tons annually. The carbon fiber they produce is purchased by customers across a variety of sectors. Most notable are those purchases being made by companies specializing in wind turbines.
Manufacturers and engineers prefer carbon fiber for wind turbines because it allows them to utilize larger blades that simply would not be possible with aluminum. Carbon fiber is light enough to make size increases possible, yet strong enough to maintain its integrity even as the size of turbine blades grows.
It should be obvious that the global push toward clean energy has made for a hot wind turbine market. Both government agencies and private sector companies are pursuing wind power across the globe. And with every new project comes the need for more turbines and blades. Companies like Toray Industries are benefiting tremendously.
There is also an up-tick in interest among carmakers as they press to see who will be the first to make an all-electric vehicle with mass-market appeal. Car designers are turning to carbon fiber to reduce the weight of car hoods, doors, wheels, etc. Carmakers still have a lot of hurdles to overcome in terms of costs and efficiency, but they are looking at carbon fiber more now than they ever have in the past.
Other Friendly Industries
Utah-based Rock West Composites says that there are a number of industries friendly to carbon fiber. They point to the aerospace industry first. Indeed, companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are some of the biggest users of carbon fiber and similar composites. Their choice of materials has allowed them to build planes that are bigger, faster, and more fuel-efficient.
Rock West says that the sporting goods industry is also very friendly to carbon fiber. Just go to your local sporting goods store and you will see what they mean. You can buy carbon fiber bikes, skateboards, skis, tennis rackets, golf clubs, and on and on.
In the maritime industries, carbon fiber is quickly becoming the preferred material for space-age boat hulls. Both designers and engineers are discovering that the same benefits the aerospace industry realizes from carbon fiber apply to what they do as well. In recent years there have been a couple of manufacturers that have built boats made almost entirely out of carbon fiber.
The point of all of this is to say that, despite some of the challenges inherent to carbon fiber deployment, demand remains high. It is so high that the industry’s major players are being forced to add manufacturing capacity just to keep up. They know that if carbon fiber is offered to customers in the right markets, it will sell quite well.