Despite a late start in the market, Chinese carbon fiber production reached a shipment level of 5,700 metric tons in 2017, along with imported carbon fiber, to meet a domestic market demand of 23,487 metric tons. The future looks bright as China boasts the largest production of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) fibers, which will allow PAN-based carbon fiber and the composites industry to continue to expand in the next decade and beyond.
Growth of the Chinese composites industry, along with remarkable market penetration, offer tremendous opportunities for overseas companies. Consider the Chinese wind energy market, for example: The industry in China has grown at an average annual rate of 41 percent for the past 10 years, reaching a total installation of 188 gigawatts (GW) in 2017. The industry is targeting a total installation of 200 GW by 2020, with 30 GW being offshore installations. All major wind energy companies have operations in China, including Vestas, GE, Siemens Gamesa and LM Wind Power.
In 2019, domestic demand for glass fiber in China will continue to be strong, and several leading companies are installing more automated production lines to further address demand and lower long-term production costs. The Chinese composites industry anticipates a turning point in two years, when domestic carbon fiber production will surpass the imported amount. Several companies will have production lines for high-performance grade carbon fiber (T700/T800/T1000), and they have plans to address technical challenges to ensure that domestic products are competitive with imported products.
To promote wider use of composite materials, the Chinese composites industry is researching low-cost design and manufacturing technologies, structural multifunction integration technologies, environmentally-friendly materials, repair and retrofitting technologies, and recycling technologies. The industry will also benefit as the advantages of composites are more widely disseminated, especially among downstream end users. In addition, automated production, modernized management and large-scale production, coupled with strict quality assurance and quality control and the continuing expansion of various markets, will surely enable the Chinese composites industry to grow at double digits annually for next decade.
The European Market
By Elmar Witten, Managing Director
AVK, the German Federation of Reinforced Plastics
The composites industry is enjoying its sixth successive year of growth, increasing again by 2 percent to an estimated total of 1.14 million metric tons compared to the previous year. (See Figure 5.) As in past years, the volume of GFRP manufactured in Europe reflects trends observed in various market segments. Production of thermoplastics, used primarily in the automobile industry, is generally still growing more strongly than production of most thermoset materials.