The global composites industry - around 90% of which is currently glass fibre-based - is now worth an estimated €80bn, and over the past five years, automotive and transportation has grown to become its biggest sector by tonnage.
Composite materials have been used for non-structural car parts since the 1950s. In recent decades, automotive interiors have been increasingly produced from thermoplastics, with semi-structural parts now widely made from thermoset composites.
In the aircraft, boat building and racing/sports car sectors, the use of carbon fibre composites has grown rapidly in recent years. In the aerospace industry, for example, carbon fibre-based composite parts in the aircraft body now account for more than 50% of the total weight of the latest models, such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
In general, composite materials are lighter in weight than steel or aluminium, which provides engineers with a lightweight alternative for use in a wide range of automotive structures and components. High strength and lighter weight leading to better fuel efficiency are the key benefits that composites offer the automotive sector; greater design flexibility, enhanced aesthetics and improved durability are other advantages.
But there are several reasons why advanced composites have not been more widely adopted by the automotive industry. The key stumbling block is price, while the availability and future supply of carbon fibres is another issue that is being addressed by fibre producers.
Many companies, from carbon fibre suppliers through to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), are now entering the market, with a wave of partnerships and joint ventures announced over recent months. Meanwhile, there are ongoing attempts to replace glass fibre with natural fibres, such as flax and hemp.
The burning question preoccupying the automotive industry is just how far carbon can succeed in replacing today’s metal structures.
Chapter 1: Introduction: a paradigm shift
Chapter 2: Global automotive production
Chapter 3: Composites overview
Chapter 4: The composites market
Chapter 5: Carbon fibre overview
Chapter 6: The carbon fibre market
Chapter 7: Carbon fibre automotive applications
Chapter 8: Carbon fibre producers
Chapter 9: Other significant recent carbon fibre developments
Chapter 10: Glass fibre overview
Chapter 11: The glass fibre composites market
Chapter 12: Glass fibre composite automotive applications
Chapter 13: Leading glass fibre manufacturers
Chapter 14: Natural fibre composites overview
Chapter 15: The natural fibre composites market
Chapter 16: Natural fibre automotive applications
Chapter 17: Natural fibre composite suppliers
Chapter 18: Composites recycling
List of tables