Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo) has agreed to buy U.S. large-tow carbon fiber manufacturer Zoltek Companies Inc. (St. Louis, MO) for $584 million. Large-tow carbon fiber is comprised of 40,000 or more filaments and typically finds application in wind turbine blades and reinforced plastic compounds. Previously, Toray was only active in regular-tow carbon fiber with the 24,000 or fewer filaments used for high-end applications such as aircraft.
Global demand for PAN-based carbon fibers is expected to expand at an annual growth rate exceeding 15% as manufacturers deploy the material as a means of weight reduction and in green energy applications. Regular-tow carbon fiber will continue to play a key role in aerospace applications, while lower-cost, large-tow carbon fiber is expected to make inroads into the wind-power and automobile structural-part fields.
Zoltek entered into the large-tow carbon fiber business in 1988, and acquired textile acrylic fiber plants in Hungary and Mexico in 1996 and 2007 respectively, converting them to manufacture PAN-based fiber. The company has been particularly successful in penetrating wind turbine applications.
On the other hand, Toray has a strong presence in aerospace through its participation in the Boeing 787 program, while its products are also used in natural-gas pressure vessels. With its portfolio lacking large-tow carbon fiber, Toray had been investigating how to address promising growth in the commodity industrial field, incorporating wind energy and automobile structural-parts applications. The acquisition of Zoltek was seen as the best route to enter the commodity large-tow carbon fiber business.