Carbon fibre to go mainstream in auto production by 2025

Technology development will drive economic viability, but the window of opportunity is a small one.

BOSTON — Driven by a faster-than-expected pace of technology development, carbon-fibre reinforced plastics (CFRPs) will be gain widespread adoption for automotive lightweighting by 2025, according to Lux Research.

Already advances underway in fibre, resin and composite part production 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,” said Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, Scaling Up Carbon Fibre: Roadmap to Automotive Adoption.

“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 high costs that have so far limited the material to less price-sensitive markets like aerospace and sporting goods, he added.

The report’s findings include:

  • 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%.

Lux Research, based in Boston, provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies.

Find the full report here.

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