OEMs are turning to carbon fiber and other lightweight materials to reduce vehicle weight. Demand for carbon composites will significantly grow as major OEMs have entered into joint ventures with carbon fiber suppliers to have a secured raw material supply. Zoltek (now Toray) entered into strategic alliance with Magna International for the development of low-cost carbon fiber sheet molding compounds. Plasan Composites worked with Globe Machine Manufacturing Co. and Weber Manufacturing to develop a manufacturing process called “pressure press” to fabricate automotive composite parts in 17 minutes. The company is developing a resin transfer molding (RTM) process to fabricate parts in 10 minutes.
Another area in the automotive industry which recently attracted a lot of attention is the increased usage of compressed natural gas (CNG) tanks. Rising shale gas exploration in the United States is expected to result in a significant increase in the gas supply, which would boost the need for CNG tanks in the coming years. Demand for natural gas vehicles also is increasing, which will drive the composites tank market higher. Major Type IV CNG tank manufacturer Hexagon Lincoln had plans to expand manufacturing capacity to 80,000 units in 2013 and 160,000 units in 2014, from the capacity of 40,000 units in 2012.
Composite materials continue to gain market traction, and OEMs show strong confidence in composites technology. Demand for composite materials in the U.S. aerospace market grew by 10.2 percent in 2013. New aircraft programs such as Boeing’s 787, Airbus’ A380 and A350, Bombardier’s C Series and general aviation aircrafts such as Cirrus and Diamond are utilizing a significantly higher amount of composites than previous aircraft and thus driving composite materials’ growth.
Boeing 787 had a huge order backlog – 884 aircraft – as of October 2013. To fulfill orders, Boeing planned to escalate production capacity of 787s to 10 aircraft per month by the end of 2013, 12 aircraft per month by 2016 and 14 aircraft per month by 2020. Airbus’ A350 XWB had an order backlog of 682 aircraft as of August 2013. A350 XWB is expected to launch in 2015 and have a production rate of 10 aircraft per month by late 2018.
The Production Tax Credit has remained a key driver for wind energy development in the United States, but the uncertainty of extension led to a “boom and bust” cycle. In 2012, the market grew as renewable energy developers rushed to complete construction in time to qualify for the credit before its expected expiration at the end of the year. This huge increase affected the new wind energy capacity installation in 2013, as most of the planned projects had been completed in 2012. Approximately 3,000 MW of new wind energy capacity was installed by the end of 2013, a 77 percent decrease from 2012.