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Toray Will Boost Carbon Fiber

Growing aerospace use spurs projects by Japanese firm and its competitors

by Marc S. Reisch
February 19, 2007 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 85, Issue 8

Credit: Boeing
Technicians check assembly of prototype composite structures for Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.
Credit: Boeing
Technicians check assembly of prototype composite structures for Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner.

Japan's Toray Industries plans to spend $460 million to boost carbon-fiber output by 4,800 metric tons per year by the end of 2008.

Following completion of expansions at plants in Decatur, Ala.; Abidos, France; and Ehime, Japan, Toray will have annual carbon-fiber capacity of 17,900 tons. Additional expansion plans will bring the firm's capacity to 24,000 tons in 2010, Toray says, at which time it predicts it will capture 40% of the global carbon-fiber market, up from the 34% share it claims today.

But to reach this goal, the diversified fibers and chemicals company will have to contend with expansion moves by other carbon-fiber makers, including Cytec Industries, Toho Tenax, and Hexcel. All three have undertaken projects over the past 15 months to boost capacity of the stronger-than-steel fibers, which are made by heat treating polyacrylonitrile. Carbon fiber is now in great demand to make composite components for a new generation of fuel-saving commercial aircraft.

Toray says the bulk of its expansion will provide composite materials for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner passenger jet, to be introduced next year. According to Boeing, the wide-body 787 will be the first commercial jet to have a majority of its primary structure made of carbon-fiber composites. The composites are more durable and require less maintenance than parts made of aluminum, Boeing says. Demand for the fibers is also increasing in automotive, sports, and military applications.

Toray's latest investment comes on top of $450 million the firm has committed since 2003 to expand carbon-fiber production. The firm expects global demand to reach 45,500 tons in 2010, up from 27,000 tons today.

Among competitors seeking to meet this growing demand, Cytec announced last week that it has picked Greenville, S.C., as the site of a $150 million plant that will double the firm's carbon-fiber capacity by 2010.

Last April, Toho Tenax, majority-owned by Japan's Teijin, said it would spend $90 million to increase its carbon-fiber capacity to 11,800 tons in 2008. And in November 2005, U.S.-based Hexcel said it would spend $100 million to build a new carbon-fiber plant near Madrid and add capacity in Salt Lake City by the end of 2008.



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