Carbon Fiber: Challenges, Opportunities and What Lies Ahead

April 2021

Carbon fibers are long strands of carbon atoms that have been bonded together in clusters called “fibers”. Seventy-five percent of carbon fibers are made from carbon atoms, while the remaining 25% is a mixture of other elements which are combined with the carbon during the manufacturing process. The other elements include oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur - all of which can be removed during the manufacturing process.

Carbon fibers can be divided into two categories; single-sided and multi-sided. Single-sided fibers have only one fiber layer while multi-sided fibers have multiple fiber layers, increasing strength. The strength of carbon fiber varies depending on how it is manufactured and what type is being used.

Carbon fiber is a patented product that is used to produce extremely strong and lightweight composite materials. These materials are stronger and lighter than traditional metals such as aluminum or steel, which makes them ideal for aerospace construction. Carbon fiber also has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, making it a preferred material in other industries including sporting goods, shipbuilding, military equipment manufacturing, law enforcement gear, and medical devices.

Carbon fiber composites have made significant contributions to society in recent years due to the composite’s light weight and high strength properties. While carbon fibers are excellent products with many applications throughout various industries, there are still some challenges associated with this constantly evolving field of science that still need to be addressed.

The Carbon Fiber Market is currently faced with challenges including:

  • Low prices. For the last few years, there has been a glut in the market, which has led to a significant decrease in prices around the world. As a result, fiber producers are having difficulty being profitable.

  • Lack of interest in carbon fiber fabrics for clothing and textiles. Traditionally, carbon fiber fabrics have been used extensively for high performance athletics wear like cycling shirts and running jackets because of its inherent properties that make it breathable and lightweight. However, more recently apparel designers have moved away from using these types of fabrics because they are not seen as versatile enough for casual wear or everyday life.

  • Reduced demand in the aerospace industry. Carbon fiber is a popular choice for use in high performance planes due to its lightweight and strength properties. However, since the economic downturn, personal flying (i.e. private jets) has become less popular. Therefore, the demand for carbon fiber in airplanes has significantly decreased as well.

However, despite these challenges that are currently being faced by the Carbon Fiber Market, it is projected to grow significantly over the next few years due to a few key factors:

  • Rapid growth of the electric vehicle industry and continual demand for lighter weight vehicles. The use of carbon fiber technology has been increasing in the electric vehicle industry as its benefits have become more recognized.

  • Specifically, the use of carbon fiber composites has allowed for significant weight reduction for parts like front and rear bumpers, grillwork and spoilers. As a result, major automobile manufacturers such as Porsche are changing their production lines to incorporate carbon fiber technologies within their vehicles.

  • Meanwhile, demand for electric vehicles is also expected to increase significantly due to a projected mandate by the U.S. government that will require all passenger cars purchased during 2017-2025 to be able to travel over 100 miles per charge.

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