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Billy Hunter

Expert Opinion

1st June 2016, Manchester

Carbon fibre comes of age

Ever since I was a textiles technology student many decades ago, I’ve been reading about the wonder material carbon fibre and its potential in applications such as aerospace, automotive, sports equipment and elsewhere.

The last decade has seen massively increased interest in the material and its adoption in commercial aircraft and high-end automotive is well documented on this website and elsewhere. However, it seems that carbon fibre is now really coming of age with potentially explosive growth in the automotive sector and further growth in aerospace and other sectors being predicted.

The automotive market is still growing across all platforms. (c) Future Materials Group.

A visit to the recent JEC World 2016 trade fair in Paris confirmed this, where there were lots of new cost and energy reducing processes demonstrated, new optimistic reports being published and equipment manufacturers showing new products aimed at carbon fibre based products markets. It was a very busy upbeat show.

Potentially as revolutionary as the Spinning Jenny

Cambridge, UK-based Future Materials Group (FMG), a strategic advisory firm, has just released the results of its new analysis into potential growth scenarios for the carbon fibre market over the next 20 years.

Innovation in Textiles’ Adrian Wilson caught up with FMG director Peter George and research analyst Myriam Yagoubi at the JEC World show in Paris to discuss the big opportunities for carbon fibre on the horizon. You can read our Talking Heads interview at ‘Potentially as revolutionary as the Spinning Jenny’ to get the full picture.

JEC World 2016: More speed, less waste

As carbon fibre-based composites continue to make further inroads into the aerospace and automotive industries, faster, more automated process techniques are being urgently demanded, as well as more options for recycling.

The benchmark for what could be possible in automotive, for example, has been BMW’s ambitious i Series programme of new, carbon-bodied based vehicles. During JEC World, BMW’s vehicle project concept manager Stephan Huber explained how the company is going further in closing the loop in this programme across the value chain – from carbon precursor to finished car component, but just as significantly, in terms of second life usage. Read all about it and other show highlights in our JEC World 2016 report at JEC World 2016: More speed, less waste.

Cutting carbon fibre costs in half

Meanwhile elsewhere, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have demonstrated a production method they estimate will reduce the cost of carbon fibre by as much as 50% and the energy used in its production by more than 60%.

After extensive analysis and successful prototyping by industrial partners, ORNL is making the new method available for licensing. You can read the full story at Cutting carbon fibre costs in half.

Closed loop for carbon-fibre composites

Late last year we reported that a new, fast and inexpensive process for the 100% recycling of carbon-fibre composites had been developed at the University of Colorado, along with a method for turning the recycled resins and fabrics into a new material that is just as effective as the original product – but cheaper to produce.

This has major implications for a rapidly-accelerating industry. The use of carbon-fibre composites in Airbus and Boeing passenger planes has increased from 10% to 50% in the past ten years, and now the same is poised to happen in commercial cars. This will potentially create a major issue when it comes to recycling in the future. Just in case you missed our report, you can read the full story at Closed loop for carbon-fibre composites.

Automotive Composites: The make-or-break decade for carbon and natural fibres

Meanwhile, back to recently published reports. ‘Automotive Composites: The make-or-break decade for carbon and natural fibres’, a new report from Textile Media Services published in September 2015, reviews the use of composites in the automotive sector and assesses how far these materials are from being used in mass vehicle production. This in-depth report, with around 250 pages and more than 50 tables, provides a sustainable roadmap for the automotive composites industry for the next decade and beyond and is available for purchase at Automotive Composites: The make-or-break decade for carbon and natural fibres.

Interesting times ahead for carbon fibre indeed!

If you have an interesting carbon fibres story to tell or would like your company or products featured on Innovation in Textiles, please feel free to email me at [email protected].


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