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Carbon fibers aid auto industry's bid to meet CAFE standards, reports BCC Research

The emergence of new technologies and markets warrants a reappraisal of the reinforced plastics market, often called composites. BCC Research (Wellesley, MA) reveals in its new report that carbon fiber-reinforced resins are replacing heavier metal components as the auto industry endeavors to meet increasingly stringent fuel economy mandates.

The global reinforced plastic composite market was estimated to total about 14.3 billion pounds (around 6.5 million tonnes) and 14.8 billion pounds (around 6.7 million tonnes) in 2014 and 2015, respectively. By 2020, the market should reach nearly 17.6 billion pounds (around 8 million tons), which corresponds to a five-year (2015-2020) compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.5%.

In the automotive market segment, the increase in Corporate Annual Fuel Economy (CAFE) levels should benefit the reinforced plastics market as metal components are increasingly replaced with plastics.

Thermosets accounted for about 75% of total composite volume in 2015 and will maintain their dominant position over the next five years according to BCC Research. Reinforced thermoplastic composites have become popular, especially in terms of having a higher recycling profile, but much of this growth will replace nonfibrous reinforcements in plastics and some metals. Within the thermoplastic category, long-fiber thermoplastics will become increasingly important according to the report.

One of the most important issues facing the automotive industry is increasingly stringent CAFE standards. Recently, the U.S. government promulgated new standards that require carmakers to attain average fuel performance of 35.5 mpg by the 2016 model year. As a result, carmakers were seeking 10% weight reductions, and it appeared that they would need to "take off" from 250 to 500 pounds per vehicle, on average, to meet these standards.

However, amended 2025 CAFE standards now "require" a fleet average of 54.5 mpg, which will force the auto industry to significantly reduce the average weight of its autos. The auto industry has 10 years to accomplish this task. Many industry observers claim that by 2025, at the latest, the "average" weight reductions in most vehicles is expected to average almost 500 or more pounds to meet the new CAFE standards. Thermoplastic and composites presently comprise an average of almost 400 pounds per car. It is anticipated that plastics usage in the engine-related segment will increase significantly by the end of the decade.

"In late September 2015, Volkswagen disclosed that it had misrepresented findings of automotive emissions of many of its recent diesel autos. The impact received global attention such that it raises some doubts in the minds of car owners as to the efficacy of the auto emissions scenario of other auto manufacturers," says BCC Research analyst Melvin Schlechter. "This disclosure will clearly place enormous pressure on all of the global auto producers' emission technologies especially in light of the existent CAFE miles per gallon scenario."

The Global Market for Composites: Resins, Fillers, Reinforcements, Natural Fibers & Nanocomposites report examines new developments, along with plastic producers and many participants in major end-use industries such the auto, construction, aviation, anti-corrosion and marine markets. Analyses of global market drivers and trends, with data for 2014 and 2015, and projections of CAGRs through 2020 are provided.

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