Projects involving automotive and aircraft components and material reuse are moving carbon fiber down the path toward mainstream markets. Among recent projects:
* A joint venture of SGL Carbon SE and BMW AG is investing about $100 million in a Moses Lake, Wash., production site.
* A collaboration between Quickstep Composites LLC and licensee Vector Composites Inc. will make certain parts as a secondary supplier for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
* Material Innovation Technologies LLC has the regulatory permits to pursue its goal of reclaiming carbon fibers and manufacturing recyclable parts.
These subjects were among topics at the recent Carbon Fibers 2010 conference in La Jolla.
Keynote speaker Andreas Wullner said he believes other automobile manufacturers will follow the SGL-BMW global initiative using renewable energy and relatively economical and fast cycle times. Wullner is managing director of the venture operating through SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC in Moses Lake and SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers GmbH & Co. KG in Wackersdorf, Germany.
To start, the venture will dedicate production from two lines for BMW's 2013-model all-electric Megacity Vehicle and a full-hybrid sports car. The lines will have annual capacity totaling 6.6 million pounds of carbon fiber and may begin processing material in mid-2011.
An integrated Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd. plant in Otake, Japan, makes polyacrylonitrile-based precursor that the Moses Lake site will convert to high-modulus carbon fiber-reinforced composites for weaving in a Wackersdorf facility into lightweight noncrimp fabrics.
In Landshut, Germany, BMW will preform, stamp, resin transfer mold and machine the fabrics into composite parts and components.
SGL of Wiesbaden, Germany, and BMW of Munich established the venture Jan. 1, 2010, after years of collaboration and discussion.
For the F-35 JSF program, the Quickstep-Vector team in Dayton, Ohio, will supply out-of-autoclave-cured bismaleimide-epoxy vertical-tail composites and fairings through BAE Systems plc of London and Marand Precision Engineering Pty. Ltd. of Moorabbin, Australia. Doors, lower-side skins, maintenance access panels, F2 fuel-tank covers and inboard-weapons bay doors will be supplied through Northrop Grumman Corp. of Los Angeles.
Quickstep President Dale Brosius said parts will be supplied to all F-35s globally beginning in early 2012.
The U.S. Air Force funded a small-business innovation research project in seeking to have Quickstep demonstrate that the out-of-autoclave process in a low-pressure environment can make components equal in quality, faster and less expensively than the existing autoclave process.
Phase one for $100,000 was completed in October 2009, and the current 27-month phase two for $4 million began in April 2010.
Quickstep Composites is a unit of publicly traded Canning Vale, Australia-based Quickstep Holdings Ltd.
Composite Technology Investors LLC of Solana Beach, Calif., acquired Vector Composites in May 2010.
The U.S. is developing the next-generation stealth F-35 Lightning II in Navy, Air Force and Marine models, although work on the Marine variant was stopped in January for two years to allow refinements. Lockheed Martin Corp.'s aeronautics unit in Fort Worth, Texas, is the prime contractor for the F-35.
In the recycling arena, Material Innovation Technologies of Fletcher, N.C., has reclaimed carbon fibers from the stabilator of an F-18 fighter and recycled pre-impregnated material from test panels of a Boeing 787 barrel section.
MIT was formed in 2005, and in April 2010, it opened a $5 million, 50,000-square-foot facility in Lake City, S.C. The firm has removed skins from F-16 stabilators and chopped the material to 1-inch squares to get undamaged 1-inch carbon fiber. Hill Air Force Base in northern Utah is decommissioning F-16s.
MIT aims to eliminate the need to landfill or incinerate waste and reports using 96 percent less energy in reclaiming carbon fibers rather than making virgin material, according to James Strike, president and CEO. Strike's mantra is to reclaim, re-engineer and reuse materials for manufacturing of recyclable and sustainable carbon-fiber parts.
SBIR awards from the U.S. departments of Energy and Defense and the U.S. National Science Foundation have constituted MIT's primary funding sources.
In an industry initiative, the American Fiber Manufacturers Association Inc. of Arlington, Va., established the High Performance Fiber Council in July for all U.S. advanced fiber producers, suppliers and customers. The council plans to deal with public policy issues including intellectual property protection, government-supported innovation initiatives and export control reform developments.
For the carbon-fiber industry from 1984-2000, the former Suppliers of Advanced Composite Materials Association gathered statistics and dealt with market development, public policies, environmental issues and test methods.
Gardner Publications Inc.'s CompositesWorld conferences segment of Yarmouth, Maine, organized the Carbon Fibers 2010 event, which was held Dec. 7-9 in La Jolla.