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Lux: carbon fiber to go mainstream in automobiles by 2025

Driven by a faster-than-expected pace of technology development, carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) will be poised to gain widespread adoption for automotive lightweighting by 2025, according to a new report from Lux Research, “Scaling Up Carbon Fiber: Roadmap to Automotive Adoption.”

Advances already underway in fiber, resin and composite part production will lead to a $6 billion market for automotive CFRPs in 2020, more than double Lux’s earlier projection. (Earlier post.) Even this figure is dwarfed by the full potential for CFRPs in automotive if they can become affordable enough for use in mainstream vehicles, Lux posits.

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.

CFRP developers will have to continue the pace of innovation to overcome the high cost that has so far limited the material to less price-sensitive markets like aerospace and sporting goods.

—Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report

Lux Research analysts reviewed the technology development in CFRPs, and evaluated its economics to consider its impact on the automotive sector. Among their findings:

  • 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%.

Comments

HarveyD

The extra cost of lighter aluminum alloy and/or carbon fiber can be offset, for electric cars, by using smaller batteries for the same range.

As more and more vehicles will be electrified, the use of lighter materials will be justified.

Why haul 2+ tonnes around (with all the extra energy required) if it can be done with one tonne vehicles or less?

mahonj

"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."

You wouldn't want to bet your life savings on a statement like that. (It would take 20 years to see if you were right or wrong in the first place).

Obviously lighter cars are better, irrespective of whether they are ICE or battery driven.

It doesn't really matter how you get the lighter (CF, Al or "advanced steels"), or just making the cars a bit smaller.

Perhaps, you might compromise top speed and tyre width to reduce rolling resistance as well.

This is all very pertinent with EVs as you are energy constrained in these cars.

BTW, I feel they should use diesel car heaters in EVs because you can make a 95% efficient heater, even if you can only make an ICE 20-40% efficient. It is a crying shame to use battery power to heat a car.
So use the battery to run the motor and the HC heater to heat the car.

yoatmon

@ mahonj
Considering the present SOA, you're probably right. Nevertheless, pollution remains pollution. Implementing a power-to-gas scheme and using that gas for heating purposes would be just as effective and emissions neutral.
I would prefer a heat pump with a reversal function making it suitable for heating and AC.

Herman

yoat, when it's bitter cold and the battery capacity is already challenged, a heat pump won't do the job. You either put in a resistance element or burn something; EV acolytes prefer (and industry are doing) the former, but I support the latter. I drive a Leaf, living at the IL/WI border, so I know from heating.

HarveyD

It should be easy to improve the insulation of the 90-120 cf. cabin to reduce the energy required to keep passengers comfort at an acceptable level?

That could be much easier to do with future carbon fiber and/or re-enforced plastic bodies and windows.

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