Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption, with the overall carbon fiber industry declining 9.7%. At the beginning of 2021, the carbon fiber industry performed well and showed positive signs. However, by the end of the year, overall carbon fiber demand grew only 4.4% due to supply chain issues and lower demand from the aerospace and automotive industries. Increasing wind turbine installations and growing demand of premium sports equipment were key driving factors for the carbon fiber industry last year.

Aerospace, one of the major end users of carbon fiber, was affected severely in 2020 and 2021. Before the pandemic, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner were built at a rate of 12 and 14 per month, respectively. However, due to travel bans and other COVID-related crises, production of these aircrafts dropped to two and three per month in 2021. As a result, carbon fiber demand for aerospace declined 33% in 2021 after a huge drop of 46% in 2020.

Lucintel forecasts that the demand for global carbon fiber in 2022 will increase by about 2.6% due to slow recovery in the aerospace market and slower growth in the wind market in 2022, where demand for carbon fiber-reinforced polymers grew by double digits in 2020 and 2021. However, there are plenty of new opportunities emerging. Lucintel sees immense prospects for carbon fiber in three areas: urban air mobility, hydrogen storage and fuel cells. Related technologies and applications are at the nascent stage but offer huge potential for future growth.

Urban Air Mobility (UAM)/Air Taxis – Increasing urban populations will lead to road congestion and demands for competitive modes of transport that can reduce traffic issues and save journey time. Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles – or air taxis – are one future mode of transport that will rely on CFRP parts for structural and interior components.

Pressure Vessels for Hydrogen Storage – Greater emphasis on decarburization is driving demand for hydrogen-based fuels. Hydrogen storage tanks are used in transportation (car, trucks, rail, aerospace, etc.), distribution (mobile pipelines) and hydrogen refueling stations. Pressure vessels (Type IV) for hydrogen storage are gaining use in the automotive and aerospace industries. Carbon fiber composites are the ideal material for making Type IV and Type V pressure vessels. However, the high cost of carbon fiber is a challenge in these applications, especially if demand for hydrogen tanks grows rapidly.