is part of the Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Articles from 2016 In December

Plastics Pioneers Association awards scholarships to seven students

College costs

The Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA; McHenry, IL) announced at its fall meeting in Arlington, VA, that it has awarded scholarships to seven students. Recipients of the scholarships are as follows:

  • Christina Sheng, an honors senior undergraduate studying materials science and engineering at Rutgers University. She has conducted research on polymers, among other materials, since her freshman year.
  • Macy Johns, a senior at University of Louisville, majoring in chemical engineering. She received the W. Mueller scholarship.
  • Casey Baran, a senior at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. He has followed in his older brother Tyler’s footsteps, spending the past two summers as a plastics tooling engineering intern for Apple Inc.
  • Emma Adams, a senior at Auburn University, is pursuing a dual degree in chemical engineering and polymer and fiber engineering. She received the M. Holland scholarship.
  • William (Bill) Miller attends the University of Wisconsin-Stout and is enrolled in the senior year of the plastics engineering program. He also serves as the vice-president of the UW-Stout chapter of the Society of Plastics Engineers.
  • Logan Tate, a junior studying plastics and polymers engineering technologies at Pennsylvania College of Technology. In 2015, Tate graduated from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania with a B.S. in physics. At Penn College, he is the SPE Student Chapter President and is employed at the Plastics Innovation & Resource Center as a student researcher.
  • Chris Buse, a senior at Ferris State University, has a goal of working in medical injection molding. He has spent two summer internships at a molding company, where he was responsible for integrating a new collaborative robot into a production work cell.
Image courtesy hywards/

According to the PPA Education Committee report, the budgeted annual expenditures projected are approximately $48,000, plus another $6,000 for two scholarships that are pledged. The group’s planned expenditures for 2016 included a $3,000 scholarship at UMass Lowell, plus a $15,000 payment on a commitment toward a $75,000 endowment for a perpetual scholarship, to be paid from the interest. “We are in the fourth year of a five-year payment plan,” said Lance Neward, Chair of the Education Committee. “Once the payment plan is completed in 2017, there will be a permanent scholarship in PPA’s name at Lowell.”

The PPA also supported the Polymer Ambassadors program with a grant of $5,000 to help elementary through high school teachers understand how to teach and integrate positive information about plastics into their classrooms and lesson plans. A similar grant will be awarded in 2017.

The SPE PlastiVan program is also supported by the PPA to the level of $7,500 with $2,500 of that carried over from 2015 and $5,000 freshly budgeted for 2016. Another $5,000 will be budgeted for the year 2017.

The year ahead in automotive trends

2017 trends

The four mega-trends shaping the global auto industry over the next 15-odd years are undoubtedly vehicles with lower emissions, new powertrain technologies, autonomous automobiles and vehicle digitalization. Reflecting these mega-trends, one can anticipate more developments in lightweighting, drivetrain optimization, car computerization, infotainment and driverless transportation in 2017. Here PlasticsToday gives its take on some of the key developments expected in 2017.

Staying connected, and entertained

Rather than being interested in the size of the engine and the shape of the car, consumers are now more interested in “infotainment” systems, being connected, autonomous driving and diverse mobility, notes consultant McKinsey. Traditionally, most value has resided in the hardware of vehicles and in the automakers’ brands. However, future innovations will probably focus on disruptive technology trends, so customer perceptions of value will shift, increasingly putting incumbents in danger. “Infotainment innovations, together with novel traffic services and new business models and services, will increase as cars get connected to each other, to the wider infrastructure and to people,” notes McKinsey.

3D printing expands its role

3D printing is a common tool for prototyping parts in a variety of industries including automotive. It’s also common to employ the technology to fabricate fixtures and jigs to simplify manual assembly operations. Moving forward, material developments such as the availability of 3D-printing materials with reinforcing fibers will likely see 3D printing used as a tool to fabricate structural parts for low-volume cars and trucks. 3D printing is also being applied to form high-strength magnets with implications for electric vehicle propulsion. Expect more developments in high-speed printing, 3D-printed sacrificial tooling and additive manufacturing in 2017.

Lower cost carbon fiber

The high cost of carbon fiber has traditionally limited its application to luxury vehicles, but help is on the horizon with the impending availability of lower cost sources. LeMond Composites, for example, will offer on a commercial basis carbon fiber that is 50% cheaper. R&D to reduce processing costs also will be critical to make carbon-fiber adoption more widespread, but it’s a step in the right direction

Changes to CAFE standards

With the mid-term review of the 2025 the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards scheduled through 2017, 52% of respondents to a recent survey—pre-presidential election, it must be added—said they expected the standards for fuel economy and emissions to become more stringent, while 35% expected them to remain the same. The current test regime is easy to manipulate (cue the use of duct tape) and does not reflect real-world driving conditions. In any case, many experts view the 2025 targets as unrealistic and riddled with loopholes. Are changes afoot once Donald Trump takes office? Based on Trump’s cabinet appointments, it would be no surprise if the answer is yes.

Startups start delivering

Startup automaker Rivian has been around since 2009. Leaving aside whether it still qualifies as a startup eight years on, the company is in talks to buy the former Mitsubishi plant in Noral, IL, with plans to manufacture fuel-efficient vehicles. Furthermore, Lucid, a 330-person Silicon Valley company founded in 2007, plans to start delivering an all-electric, all-wheel-drive sedan with a 300-mile range in early 2019. And while Faraday Future’s production plans appear to be on hold because of funding issues, 2017 could be the year when competition to Tesla appears on the horizon.

Adhesives for multi-substrate bonding meet needs for volume production of composite parts

Adhesives for multi-substrate bonding meet needs for volume production of composite parts

Fast-curing and reliable adhesives and matrix resins from Germany’s Henkel are reportedly answering the increasing call from the auto industry for high performance continuous fiber-reinforced composites in integrated structural assemblies. At K 2016, the company exhibited various assembly solutions for new lightweight materials from its broad materials portfolio.

Adhesives are a critical component in allowing auto OEMs to bond disparate materials

Adhesive bonding is replacing more conventional assembly methods involving welding, riveting and screwing according to Henkel. Not only is it highly effective, but it is also safer and simplifies many processes. The latest developments from Henkel make it possible to produce assemblies cost-effectively in volumes that may exceed 10,000 parts per year.

During the show, Henkel turned the spotlight on an adhesive for joining a carbon fiber reinforced composite roof to a frame carrier made of thermoplastic. The adhesive, Loctite EA 9065, provides the high shear strength required for joining such important roof parts. It also bonds effectively to many different substrates, including steel and aluminum, as well as fiber reinforced plastics or thermoplastic composites based on polyamides.

Loctite EA 9065 also provides high crash durability, and it can be formulated for fast curing. Thus it is suitable for automated application in large quantities. “With Henkel offering high performance adhesives, we have the right partner for the integration of different composite substrates as thermoplastic and thermosets,” explained Erich Fries, head of the Composites/Surfaces business unit at KraussMaffei.

Apart from composite adhesives that can be tailored to specific resins, Henkel also produces matrix resins for various types of fiber and textile-reinforced composites, as well as binders and release agents. “Henkel is taking a strategic approach to large-series automotive composites production,” said Frank Kerstan, Global Program Manager, Automotive Composites. “We position ourselves as a solution provider of composites materials for structural parts across different automotive segments and tailored adhesives for the assembly of multi-substrate components. Henkel is particularly strong when it comes to providing process and application know-how in resin transfer molding, [or] RTM.”

Neward Family Trust donates $100,000 to Plastics Pioneers' scholarship fund

Lance Neward

At its fall 2016 meeting in Arlington, VA, the Plastics Pioneers Association’s (PPA) Board of Governors accepted a donation of $100,000 from the Neward Family Trust to support the Education Fund of the PPA. 

Lance Neward is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association.

Lance Neward, who had a lifelong career in the plastics industry, told the board that the plastics industry, particularly through his father’s work, had been very good to his family, and he and his sisters wanted to give back to the industry that has done so much for them. Neward said that his father, Ted Neward, “arrived in California during the middle of the Great Depression, as a college student on a scholarship, with $4 in his pocket. Ultimately, through his work in plastics, he built a substantial, successful career. He often said that he couldn’t have picked a better one.”

Both Ted and Lance’s stepmother Ruth were strong believers in education, and the family wanted to help students planning a career in plastics to achieve their own goals. To that end, they chose to support the scholarship activities of PPA with this donation to the PPA Education Fund. Scholarships in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Neward will be awarded based on the interest made on the $100,000 principal. The first awards will be made in 2018.

The board and those in attendance at the meeting offered their thanks to the Neward family for this generous donation. Lance indicated that he hopes this will encourage others to similarly support the educational activities and outreach of the PPA.

'All Things Bakelite,' the movie, screened at Plastics Pioneers Association meeting

Beall and Karraker

At the Saturday morning session of the recent Plastics Pioneers Association (PPA; McHenry, IL) fall meeting, Glenn Beall, on behalf of the Plastics History and Artifacts Committee, introduced attendees to Mr. Hugh Karraker, a great-grandson of Leo H. Baekeland. We in the industry know him as the “father of modern plastics.” Karraker provided the group with a showing of his film, All Things Bakelite. Bakelite is the original trade name that Leo Baekeland chose for his new material, which is actually phenol-formaldehyde, generally known as phenolic.

The one-hour film by John Maher explores the legacy of Leo Baekeland, who was responsible for one of the most transformative discoveries of the 20th century, said the write-up in the PPA newsletter. Karraker said, “I wanted to celebrate Baekeland’s life; his 1907 invention had a huge impact on our lives, but little is known about him.”

Glenn Beall (left) with Hugh Karraker, great-grandson of Leo H. Baekeland, at the Plastics Pioneers Association fall meeting.

Beall, writing about Karraker in the PPA fall newsletter, noted that Karraker spent more than 10 years researching his great-grandfather’s life, and had access to his mother’s notes on Baekeland’s meticulous collection of 62 hand-written diaries. “History comes alive as Maher weaves interviews with family members with beautiful period re-enactments of Baekeland—seen as a curious boy in Belgium, then as a persistent chemist and inventor in New York, and later as an old man reflecting on the toll that running the business had taken on his life,” said the PPA write-up. “Archival footage, intimate family photos and first-person accounts transport viewers back to the dawn of the modern age, when individuals like Baekeland, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and others led a revolution with their inventions.”

The film presents perspectives from an ensemble of accomplished scientists, historians, artists and musicians, whose occupations are neatly wrapped in plastic. “Entertaining and informative, the film captures the wonder, as well as the curse, of Baekeland’s alchemy; for while Bakelite and its descendents became essential to our lives they have also created serious environmental consequences. All Things Bakelite confronts this double-edged sword head-on, raising an existential conflict Baekeland faced as he questioned the value of his miracle material.

I’m certain that Mr. Baekeland could never have imagined what the plastics industry would become. Very few successful inventors ever really foresee the results—or consequences—of their inventions. As in all things, the law of unintended consequences is in play. But I’m sure most in the industry would agree with me that the benefits of plastics far outweigh what many see as the disadvantages of this miraculous material that can be soft enough to wrap a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tough enough to be a car bumper or an engine part.

To see a trailer for the movie and learn more about it, go to the All Things Bakelight website.            

Multinational inks €55 million deal to commercialize bioplastics technology developed by Bio-on


Bio-on S.p.A. (Bologna, Italy), a biotechnology company specialized in the production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), has announced the signing of a €55 million multi-license contract with a major multinational company and reported leader in its sector. The goal of Bio-on's new client is to replace conventional plastic with biodegradable biopolymers made from agro-industrial waste within the next three years using Bio-on's PHA technology. The name of the customer was not disclosed.

The first license comes into effect with the signing of the agreement, while a second will be activated in the first half of 2017, which will conclude preparatory activities for the launch of the industrial project. All licenses and relative revenues, totaling €55 million, will be developed continuously over the next 24 to 36 months.

In addition to the industrial development, the companies have agreed to design and develop new applications for the materials by spring 2017. This activity will be worth €1 million.

The plan envisages the construction of a series of PHA bioplastic production plants for an overall output of 100,000 tonnes per year. The individual plants will have a potential of between 10,000 and 30,000 tonnes per year and will be built in Europe and Asia based on a three-year schedule. The company aims  to replace a large percentage of the conventional plastic now used in its products with the biodegradable material by 2020.

PHA bioplastics developed by Bio-on are made from renewable plant sources that do not compete with food supply chains. They guarantee the same thermo-mechanical properties as conventional plastics with the advantage of being 100% eco-sustainable and naturally biodegradable at ambient temperature.

According to the agreement, the PHAs will be made from co-products of the sugar industry and the production of starch and its derivatives. All the bioplastic produced at the new plants—100 thousand tonnes per year—will be used exclusively by the multinational within its own production cycle to create finished products ready for sale.

Automotive Tooling Barometer shows uptick for die and mold toolmakers

OESA barometer

The Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA; Troy, MI) and Harbour Results Inc. (HRI; Southfield, MI) recently released their Automotive Tooling Barometer containing data from Q2 2016. While the industry experienced a slow start to the year, with more than $2 billion in tooling capacity not leveraged during the first quarter, it has since taken a turn in the right direction, noted the survey report.

Not only have capacity utilization rates (reported this month) stabilized for die (83%) and mold (76%) toolmakers in the fourth quarter, overall work “on hold” has decreased by six percentage points since January. HRI estimates “on hold” impact for industry in the second and third quarters to be around $1.6 billion, a decrease from more than $2 billion in January.

HRI’s research shows the industry is recovering from a downturn, and shops are expressing a positive outlook about their business in the coming months. Year-over-year, the Tooling Sentiment Index has experienced a 32% change, with sentiment now up eight points since January to 74. HRI’s analysis of the survey results revealed the cyclical nature to sentiment, as there is some level of correlation to the amount of work “on hold” reported.

“Automotive forecast data show the industry can expect to see a significant increase in tooling during the next two years,” said Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of HRI. “Although the average price per tool is down, it is important that shops increase quoting to maintain revenue and meet demands.”

Additionally, the research assessed sales and marketing activities within the tooling industry and found that sales efficiency and quoting levels varied greatly by tool shop revenue. Larger shops demonstrated greater levels of efficiency, with shops over $20 million earning 22% more revenue per salesperson and quoting 32% more per estimator than shops under $20 million.

The Tooling Barometer collected insights from a diverse group of shops with a total of more than $1 billion in tooling revenue across nine different industries. Although 82% of responses come from automotive, HRI deems this to be a good reflection of the overall industry as the automotive industry accounts for a majority of the tooling industry’s revenue.

The OESA Automotive Tooling Barometer survey series was created by the OESA Tooling Council in partnership with Harbour Results Inc. to provide an indicator of the current state of automotive tooling and a perception of long-term prospects for the industry.

Bioplastics highlights: a last look back at 2016

Bioplastics highlights: a last look back at 2016

New Plastics Economy

2016 kicked off with the launch of a report entitled ‘New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics’ at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which outlined a revolutionary new approach to managing the global plastics flows, and in particular, the global plastic packaging flows. The report, compiled by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called for the application of circular economy principles to these flows, which could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans.

In this ‘New Plastics Economy’, the focus would be on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks. In the report, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation declared it would establish an initiative to act as a cross-value-chain global dialogue mechanism and drive the shift towards a New Plastics Economy, a promise it has since lived up. The Foundation has established a three-year initiative to “build momentum towards a plastics system that works” through application of the principles of the circular economy. The initiative brings together key stakeholders from across the plastics packaging chain to re-think and re-design the future of plastics, starting with packaging., and since the launch, the number of participants has grown steadily. In January 2017, the New Plastics Economy will present its latest research findings to business and government leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Novel biopolyesters, a new bioplastic and –finally! – bio-PP

This year, a number of innovative biobased plastics also made the news:  Avantium, a Dutch biochemical firm headquartered in Amsterdam that is pioneering a totally new biopolyester called polyethylenefuranoate, or PEF, finally announced that it was going to start construction on a new 50k t/year reference plant for the production of  furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA), a precursor of PEF. The announcement contained one surprise: the new reference plant will be operated as a joint venture with German chemical giant BASF and will be located at BASF’s Verbund site in Antwerp, Belgium. The aim, said the companies, is to build up world-leading positions in FDCA and PEF. The potential is huge and if they succeed, today’s PET bottle may well become obsolete – although they will have competition from polytrimethylene furandicarboxylate (PTF), another novel biopolyester with vastly improved gas barrier properties compared to PET. DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Archer Daniels Midland Company jointly developed a fructose-based furan dicarboxylic methyl ester (FDME), which, combined with DuPont’s proprietary Bio-PDO, produces the new biopolyester.

PTTMCC, the joint venture between PTT and Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation is constructing the first biobased Polybutylene succinate (PBS) plant in the world, which is scheduled to go into operation in 2017. A biobased and biodegradable replacement for polyethylene, Bio-PBS decomposes naturally - no composting facility needed - in soil into water and carbon dioxide. Bio-PBS is highly compatible with fibers -  it penetrates easily into pores and around fiber, yielding excellent adhesion to cup stock paper – and can take temperatures up to 100oC. Bio-PBS been hailed by the industry as the long awaited biobased solution for coated paper packaging, barrier packaging, coffee capsules, fiber and injection molding applications.

Lastly, Finland’s Neste caused quite a stir only recently with an unofficial announcement that they would be launching a bio-polypropylene product sometime next year, which apparently is the true reason behind their recently announced partnership with IKEA. Braskem, known for their sugar-cane-based polyethylene,  tried long and hard to get bio-PP off the ground, without success. Neste has reportedly has developed a shorter process route and will “prove production capability” next year, said a spokesman from the company. The company is likely to locate the plant in Europe, he said, “near a site that utilizes diesel as feedstock.”
“We can do it,” he said. “We could fill a steam cracker with renewable hydrocarbons today.”

Greenhouse gas not all bad

2016 was also the year that CO2 officially joined the ranks of sustainable feedstocks. The  Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, Michigan) became the first automaker to formulate and test new foam and plastic components using carbon dioxide as feedstock.

The new foam is formulated by Novomer, a New York-based company that utilizes carbon dioxide captured from manufacturing plants to produce innovative materials. Through a system of conversions, Novomer produces a polymer than can be formulated into a variety of materials, including foam and plastic that are easily recyclable.  If the new foam lives up to its promise, said Ford, we could see the new biomaterials in Ford production vehicles within five years, for example in seating and under

the hood applications, potentially reducing petroleum use by more than 600 million pounds annually.

And in June, Germany-based Covestro, inaugurated the world’s first commercial production plant for CO2-based polymers in Dormagen, Germany in June 2016. The plant uses carbon from CO2 to manufacture a new type of polyol, which are core building blocks for polyurethane foam. The company shipped its first CO2-based product earlier this month, officially marking the start of production in the new plant.

Speaking of greenhouse gas, PLA producer NatureWorks is also investigating the possibilities of producing its Ingeo material from what it calls third-generation feedstock: methane. The company has made a USD 1 million investment in a new laboratory at the company’s Minnetonka headquarters in Minnesota, USA, to commercialise the fermentation process for transforming methane into lactic acid, the building block of Ingeo PLA. It’s a gamble, but one that not only serves NatureWorks’ strategic interests in feedstock diversification; if it works, it would yield a structurally simplified, lower cost Ingeo production platform, opening the market for competitively priced PLA. At the company’s Innovation Takes Root event this year in Orlando, CEO Marc Verbruggen predicted that “if we succeed, no one will ever build another factory that uses sugar as a feedstock again”.

A competitor for NatureWorks

This year, too, another PLA producer entered the market – to the delight of NatureWorks, said Verbruggen. “Customers want to know that there is more than one supplier in the market,” he said. “Competition will allow us to grow.” The Netherlands-based Corbion launched its Luminy PLA portfolio, comprised of standard PLA and innovative high heat resistant PLA resins. Interestingly, Corbion also announced that it was looking at feedstock options other than first-generation food crops. The company said that it was investigating second-generation solutions, such as inedible biomass.

Corbion also announced it was partnering with France’s Total on the construction of a new PLA polymerization plant with a capacity of 75,000 tons per year at Corbion's site in Thailand. The new joint venture includes the existing lactide (PLA monomer) production unit at that site. Corbion will supply the lactic acid necessary for the production of the PLA and the lactide.

Goodbye to all that

Sadly, the industry also saw the departure of one of the more visible bioplastics players from the market in 2016. PHA manufacturer Metabolix (Woburn, Mass.) announced in July that is was eliminating approximately 45 positions in its biopolymer operations and corporate organization, and “pursuing the sale of its biopolymers business assets”. "This is a dramatic restructuring and an unfortunate but necessary step to bring the Company forward with a new strategy based on what we believe are the most exciting and promising technologies in our portfolio,” said Joseph Shaulson, president and CEO of Metabolix.

What’s ahead?

Growth, if the recent figures from European Bioplastics are anything to go by. Production capacity is set to increase from around 4.2 million metric tons in 2016 to approximately 6.1 million tons in 2021. Bioplastics are a growing, innovative industry that can play a key role in the transformation to a bio-based circular economy. Yet, says the organization: “Despite these advantages, the data shows that the overall growth of the global bioplastics industry is currently being slowed down by the low oil prices and a lack of political support for the bio-based economy.”

Let’s try and change that in 2017.

What I would like to see in 2017: A wish list for the auto sector

Plastic road

I don’t have an exceedingly extensive list of wishes for the new year, but I'd like to think they are important.

Let’s kick off with a thorough, unbiased analysis of the total environmental impact of electric vehicles, hybrid electrics and traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, be they diesel or gasoline powered. Some major cities throughout the world plan to ban the entry of diesel vehicles, so that alone represents a concern that needs to be investigated. And the industry needs to take a closer look at where the electricity comes from to power electric cars, as well as the burden that lithium ion battery production places on the environment. Kudos to Arthur D. Little’s recent study for drawing this issue to my attention.

All-plastic roads: A path to safety and sustainability.

Sticking with the environmental theme, I’d like to see more use of sustainable materials in automobiles. Ford has been at the forefront here, using CO2-based foam and working with tequila giant Jose Cuervo to explore the use of agave plant byproducts to develop more sustainable bioplastics, to cite one example. DSM also deserves a mention, topping the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in the materials industry group. Here's a company that will only adopt a biobased solution over a petroleum-based one if it truly makes environmental sense.

Human life should be valued no matter where you are from throughout the world. I think automakers have a moral obligation in this day and age to adopt common global safety standards for their products. Often, safety features such as airbags are eschewed in favor of affordability in developing economies where road infrastructure also tends to be substandard, a lethal combination one could say. This is a difficult one given that access to transport can haul people out of poverty, but what’s the point if a potential breadwinner’s life is sacrificed.

Plastics might also make roads safer and even affordable with a smaller ecological footprint, to boot. Our recent article on an effort to develop sustainable plastic-based roads attracted interest from Trinidad and Tobago. I wish the partners in this initiative, KWS Infra Wavin and Total, the best of luck in their efforts to bring plastics’ footprint into a new field of transportation.

Aircraft, automobile manufacturers driving demand for high-strength, lightweight carbon fiber

Boeing 777X

Led by industrial applications, such as the manufacture of aircraft, automobiles, pressure vessels, wind turbines and sporting goods, the global market for carbon fibers is growing dramatically—more than 8% per year through 2020, according to new research from business intelligence company IHS Markit (London).

IHS Markit expects global consumption of carbon fiber to grow from over 60 thousand metric tons (TMT) in 2015 to approximately 90 TMT by 2020. Carbon fibers are lightweight, high-strength materials that serve as reinforcing agents in high-performance composites made from specialty epoxy resins and engineering thermoplastics.

Toray, the world’s largest carbon fiber producer, signed a long-term agreement with Boeing to supply carbon fiber pre-pregs for the new Boeing 777X aircraft.

“Major advances in technology and processing have dramatically expanded demand for high-performance carbon fibers,” said Michael Malveda, Director at IHS Markit and lead analyst of the report, Carbon Fibers: Chemical Economics Handbook. “The introduction of higher-volume and lower-cost fibers, coupled with gains in productivity, have reduced the manufacturing cost of carbon fibers. Cost is a major factor affecting demand, and as costs come down, we are seeing demand growing significantly.”

Malveda said aircraft and automotive manufacturers, who face environmental and regulatory pressures to reduce weight, improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, are helping drive demand for carbon fibers. Automotive and industrial/wind applications currently consume more than 60% of global carbon fiber demand, according to the study, and demand in this sector will grow at an average annual rate of nearly 9% through 2020. World demand in aircraft and aerospace applications surpassed sporting goods/recreation to become the second-largest market for carbon fibers in 2011 to 2012, Malveda said.

“Carbon fibers are increasingly being used in commercial and military aircraft manufacturing,” he said. “They are used in the construction of the main body, wings, engines, etc., and can result in less aircraft weight and lower fuel consumption." In addition, carbon fiber enables higher aircraft speeds and longer distance ranges.

IHS Markit expects growth in carbon fiber consumption for the aircraft market to reach 9% per year through the 2020 study period, or more than 20 TMT. It was less than half of that in 2012, Malveda said. Driving that demand are expected increases in airline passenger traffic, as well as the need to replace aging fleets.

Despite strong growth of carbon-fiber usage, limitations do exist, according to the IHS Markit study. For example, its use in mass-produced automobiles will need to overcome high production costs and processing technologies that can present certain challenges. The quality and consistency of carbon-fiber supply also is very important.

“Automotive manufacturers are working with carbon-fiber producers to help address production costs and quality standards, and lower costs will help manufacturers expand use of these materials to more of their models, beyond just the sports and specialty vehicle markets,” Malveda said.

Sporting goods and recreational manufacturing will consume more than 17% of carbon-fiber demand by 2020. Asia accounted for 76% of world consumption of carbon fibers in sporting goods/recreation manufacturing in 2015, and the region will drive 80% of consumption for that use by 2020, according to the report.

There is a trend to fully integrate carbon-fiber production from precursor raw materials to finished goods, IHS Markit said. For example, in Western Europe, producers have been investing into back integration such as polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor facilities, or expanding downstream with composite manufacturing plants.

Likewise, Toray, the world’s largest carbon fiber producer, has vertical production channels from precursors to carbon fibers to carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) on a global scale. In late 2015, the company signed a long-term agreement with Boeing to supply carbon fiber pre-pregs for the new Boeing 777X aircraft.

Malveda said several large auto manufacturers and carbon-fiber producers formed partnerships in recent years that may lead to more mainstream use of the material in the future. For example, in 2015, Ford and DowAksa formed a joint-development agreement to further research high-volume production of automotive-grade carbon fiber. In 2009, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers was formed as a joint venture between BMW and the SGL Group. It is the exclusive supplier of carbon-fiber materials to the BMW Group for use in BMW’s i-series of electric/hybrid vehicles. In recent years, SGL Automotive has expanded its carbon-fiber production capacity to meet increasing automotive demand.