Last week, Solvay opened a new carbon fiber production line at its U.S. Piedmont, South Carolina, facility doubling production capacity of raw materials to make carbon fiber reinforced composite materials. The expansion covers the facilities and equipment to convert polyacrylonitrile (PAN) monomers into standard modulus carbon fibers.
The expansion is the latest in a number of moves by Solvay to solidify itself as a leader in aerospace composites. Last year, Solvay acquired major aerospace supplier Cytec for $5.5 billion, effectively making the company the world’s second-largest player in aerospace composite materials. Last month, Solvay and Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Development Company announced a new 50/50 joint venture. Boeing has said that it will source carbon fiber prepreg composite material for the Boeing 777X from the joint venture. Solvay was also a major supplier of composite materials to the historic Solar Impulse 2 – the solar aircraft that recently completed the world’s first round-the-world solar powered flight.
The new production line won qualification by Boeing to manufacture secondary structures such as wing movable flaps and engine nacelles, as well as interior aircraft applications. Solvay cites the need to meet increasing demand for lightweighting composite materials in the aerospace industry as a primary driver for the expansion.
“Through this strategic capacity expansion we offer our customers greater supply capabilities and contribute to their increased needs for reinforced composite materials to reduce weight and fuel consumption and to reduce assembly costs by integrated part design,” said Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, CEO of Solvay.
As the company explains, carbon fiber composite materials offer durability, strength and fatigue life, which allow them to replace metals on aircraft. This reduces aircraft weight, noise and CO2 emissions. In addition, composites allow manufacturers to mold multiple sub-components into one assembly part, lowering the number of parts required as well as the assembly costs.