Carbon Fiber to Set New Trends in Lightweight Vehicle Manufacturing
Lightweight materials are metal alloys and composites used to decrease the weight of automotive, aircrafts and windmills, without affecting the strength and efficiency of the structure.
The efficiency of lightweight materials depends upon the mixture of alloys or the composites used. Lightweight materials have high strength-to-weight ratio, exceptional corrosion resistance, and greater design flexibility. Lightweight materials comprise highly permeable materials with minimal weight, generally lightweight steel, magnesium, aluminum, and composites. They are generally used in weight reduction of various automobiles, aircrafts, and windmills without altering the strength of the overall structure. High strength steel has high level of weight reduction properties, as these materials reduce the overall weight of the structure without hampering the overall strength, making it feasible for automobiles.
Lightweight materials are of different grades/types, and their use depends on the requirement and demand from its end-use industries. Most used lightweight materials are metal alloys include high strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. These metal alloys are non-ferrous metals with low density, high strength to weight ratio, and high corrosive resistance. Metal alloys are easy to forge by forming, machining, and welding, and thus have application in various industries, such as automobile, aerospace, wind, and others.
The major factors that drive the world lightweight materials market increase penetration of lightweight components in automotive industry coupled with rise in automotive production, stringent government norms for emission control, and increase in production of aircraft modules to uplift the demand for advanced composites and other lightweight materials. For instance, in March 2016, Cytec Industries Inc., extended its partnership with Boeing through 2020 for the supply of lightweight materials. In addition, in November 2015, Novelis Inc. opened a new aluminum automotive heat treatment line in Nachterstedt, Germany, with a capacity of 350,000 metric tons of aluminum sheet per year to help automakers build lightweight, high performance vehicles. Thus, the rise in concentration of lightweight materials manufacturers in expansion of manufacturing facilities in developing regions is another key factor that fuels the market growth. The world carbon fiber and steel production has witnessed a rapid increase over the last few years due to increase in demand from automotive manufacturers as well as increase in R&D and innovations.
Currently, most of the automotive manufacturers prefer carbon fibers and composites due to its extraordinary properties such as lightweight and strength. Carbon fibers are manufactured from polyacrylonitrile. The process of manufacturing of carbon fibers is partly mechanical and partly chemical during which a variety of liquids and gases are used. Carbon fibers are manufactured by the process of carbonization, which include heating of polyacrylonitrile that leaves behind a carbon fiber, composed of tightly inter locked chains of carbon atoms. Carbon fibers have high stiffness, low weight, high tensile strength, low thermal expansion, and high temperature tolerance, thus they are preferred in the manufacture of automobiles, aircrafts, civil engineering, motorsports, and other sports goods. In March 2013, Zoltek Corporation introduced a low-cost and innovative solution for CNG winding under the brand name TowPreg to reduce production costs for pressure vessel applications by adding an epoxy resin to it. In addition to high cost, other challenges that restrict the use of carbon fiber possess are high cost of maintenance and repairs and recycling. As of 2016, only premium and luxury segment vehicles contain more number of components made form carbon fibers, whereas the production of mid-range vehicles is more when compared which do not use more of the carbon fiber components due to high price.
In 2014, the world vehicle production was pegged at 68.5 million vehicles, which increased by 1.1 percent to reach 69.3 million in 2015. Thus, a rise in demand for fuel efficient lightweight vehicles is anticipated to fuel the overall world lightweight materials market.
The use of carbon fibers in vehicles reduces up to 20 percent of the overall vehicle weight. In April 2016, ExxonMobil launched ‘Exceed XP’, a high-performance polymer for construction liners and vehicle interiors. However, the initial costs of carbon fibers are higher than other polymers, thus challenging the adoption of carbon fibers widely. Moreover, automotive interior requires more amount of carbon fiber, which results in higher cost per vehicle.