The economic challenge for mass adoption of CFRP in everyday automobiles produced by the millions has yet to be solved, but the potential is huge. With both the cost of carbon fiber and the manufacturing cost of CFRP parts expected to come down as a result of adoption for mass production applications and increased use of automation, the opportunity for carbon fiber in automotive applications is almost unimaginable. High-volume production will result in lower costs and increased acceptance.
In conclusion, the market for carbon fiber and carbon fiber composites is growing steadily and robustly. Demand has caught up to available capacity, and additional new capacity is coming on stream. In new mass-market applications, such as automobiles, as well as construction and infrastructure, the right materials used in the right ways will bring about further growth in demand. For carbon fiber, the future remains bright.
The Infrastructure Market
Dr. Hota GangaRao, P.E.
Wadsworth Distinguished Professor,
West Virginia University
Economic growth in the U.S. has been enabled through investments in infrastructure, but a funding gap has evolved that threatens future growth and the rate of growth. Over the next 10 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) projects a $1.4 trillion funding gap between revenue and needs, and failure to substantially close this funding gap will lead to $3.9 trillion of losses in U.S. gross domestic product, 2.5 million fewer jobs and cost each household $3,400 per year due to poor infrastructure.
Fiber-reinforced polymer composite products and associated systems can effectively rehabilitate or retrofit in-service U.S. infrastructure at a fraction of replacement costs, or they can lead to more economical replacements compared to conventional construction materials in areas of high corrosion. FRP composites have inherent advantages, such as corrosion resistance, durability, magnetic transparency, high strength and high stiffness-to-weight ratio. Composites also offer significant economic advantages. For instance, FRP composite wraps can be used to rehabilitate steel, concrete or timber substructures at about 5 percent of the cost of replacement. Similarly, the use of FRP rebar in place of steel changes the total project cost by only 1 percent, while substantially increasing the durability of concrete structures.
FRP wicket gates, which serve as movable dams on rivers, provide an excellent case study for the use of composites. For more than 150 years, wicket gates were built with large, durable old-growth timbers. However, the lack of availability of old-growth timber has led to an increase in maintenance costs and loss of durability. An FRP wicket gate was designed and tested by West Virginia University (WVU), manufactured by Composites Advantage and installed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) on the Illinois River in 2015. It has been performing very well since. Not only is the durability expected to increase from 15 years to over 50 years with FRP, but the initial cost was two-thirds the cost of timber gates, according to a representative of the USACE.