Lightweighting — using carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) to help reduce carbon emissions — will become technically and economically viable to carmakers in the next decade, dwarfing current applications, according to Lux Research. Driven by a faster-than-expected pace of technology development, carbon-fiber reinforced plastics will be poised to gain widespread adoption for automotive lightweighting by 2025, according to a new report.
Advances in fiber, resin and composite part production already underway will lead to a $6 billion market for automotive CFRPs in 2020, more than double Lux’s earlier projection. Even this figure is dwarfed by the full potential for CFRPs in automotive if they can become affordable enough for use in mainstream vehicles.
“Current trends strongly indicate significant mainstream automotive adoption of CFRPs in the mid-2020s, and companies throughout the value chain must position themselves to take advantage of the coming shifts. However, long-term megatrends towards urbanization, connectivity and automation suggest that there could be a limited time window beyond that for penetrating the automotive space,” says Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of Scaling Up Carbon Fiber: Roadmap to Automotive Adoption.
- Growing partnerships hasten development. The number of direct partnerships between carmakers or Tier-1 automotive suppliers and carbon fiber players has nearly doubled to 11 since 2012. Toray, with partnerships with Plasan Carbon Composites and Magna, has formed the most new relationships and is a major hub.
- Patent uptick suggests mid-2020 adoption. Using a predictive tool, Lux Research identified a lag of about 18 years between uptick of patent activity and attainment of mainstream commercial adoption milestones. With another major upturn in CFRP patent activity occurring in 2007, large-scale mainstream automotive use is likely by the mid-2020s.
- Other manufacturing costs need to be cut. Carbon fiber itself, at $28/kg for standard modulus fiber, represents just 22% of the cost of a final CFRP part. Additional advances are needed to reduce capital, labor, energy, resin and processing costs, which together make up the remaining 78%.
In October, Novelis opened China’s first plant that produces heat-treated aluminum automotive sheet — a key material in lightweighting vehicles. In other vehicle lightweighting efforts, BMW and Audi AG are among more than 70 companies and organizations backing a materials-development group that says it’s getting closer to large-scale manufacturing of cars made with carbon fiber.