Automotive is the segment everyone looks to for significant growth over the next five to 10 years and beyond. Certainly, BMW has led the way with the i3/i8 program, as well as the Carbon Core in the 7-series. The trend toward electric vehicles will create increased demand as automakers leapfrog each other to increase range and make electric vehicles more attractive to a wider range of buyers.
In addition, the new high ground in transportation will be automated vehicles, including trucks, buses and automobiles. OEMs will rethink their approach to the market, and features such as durability in high-use applications and space-to-weight ratios will increase demand for efficient, lightweight CFRP parts and structures.
At just an 8 percent growth rate, carbon fiber industry volume would increase to 125,000 metric tons by 2025, which is the minimum being forecast. This is more than double the level of carbon fiber production from 62,000 metric tons in 2015. And there are a number of scenarios in the automotive market segment that can have a significant further impact on carbon fiber production: Individual programs can be large, so it’s possible that the industry could grow even faster and be three or four times larger by 2025. However, automotive carbon fiber opportunities in the “millions of pounds range” are probably better aimed at part replacements than programs designed to build whole CFRP cars from the ground up like the i3.
Estimates of capacity utilization in the carbon fiber industry vary widely, with some estimating between 40 and 100 percent excess capacity, depending on whether you use nameplate or effective capacity respectively. Despite this estimated imbalance, capacity continues to expand globally. Is this being done in anticipation of substantially increased demand? Why are so many suppliers investing in capacity? With so many new companies and new plants in many countries, these are the Wild West days in the industry. Just as the west was tamed, so too will the carbon fiber industry be shaped by a number of forces.