It has been a while since my last postings about aircraft interiors. Quite a few things have happened in the time between. After attending and speaking at the CompositesWorld Carbon Fibers 2013 conference in December, I have come away with a strong sense that the market for carbon fiber reinforced composites is starting to grow faster than expected. It seems that there are numerous large projects in the works that could dramatically spike demand for related goods and services.
I had written in an earlier posting about research that I was conducting on automotive uses of composites. This research was the basis for an automotive report and my seminar at the Carbon Fiber 2013 event. Since the summer posting on automobiles, I have had a chance to refine my information and enhance some of the analysis. This extra work is help push my grounds-up forecast for composites usage.
Compared to the earlier posting this includes a few more applications as well as the inclusion of new models that CFC believes are likely to be introduced as well as figures for vehicles that CFC missed in compiling vehicle model data. With the inclusion of these factors, the potential new opportunities for automotive CFRP are roughly 1.5 times greater than previously indentified luxury and performance vehicles. It is interesting to note the relative contribution of CFRP to overall composites and other materials in the automotive industry. After looking at data from aluminum, steel, and glasfiber composites is appears that the global automotive industry currently consumes about 375 billion pounds of materials each year in the construction of passenger vehicles. Of this total, the greatest contributor to vehicle construction is steel (at about 240 billion pounds, or 64%. FRP composites represent almost 1/1000th of steel volumes. As a percent of the whole, CFRP represents approximately 4 hundredths of 1 percent of total material requirements.
Considering the massive growth initiative that the industry supply chain has had to materialize for the BMW i3 model, the carbon fiber supply chain is still struggling to reach parity with FRP (in terms of volumes), reaching 1% of raw material purchases seems a long way off. Total global supply capacity for carbon fiber products would have to grow from around 105,000 MT by a factor of about 162X. To achieve this might require capital expenditures of about $40 billion – a little more than 10 times current carbon fiber, prepreg, and semi-finished good sales.