Carbon fiber, as a kind of reinforcing material, is mainly used in aerospace, wind power, automobile, sports and leisure fields, of which aerospace as a traditional application field of carbon fiber has witnessed a rising application ratio of carbon fiber in recent years; and the demand for carbon fiber from the emerging areas such as wind power, automobile and pressure vessel has been boosting as well. From 2006 to 2010, the annual growth rate of global demand for carbon fiber averaged 12.9%, soaring to nearly 40,000 tons in 2010.
In order to meet the increasingly growing demand, the global carbon fiber capacity has expanded rapidly, at an annual average growth rate of 26.4% in 2006-2008. Affected by financial crisis, most of the major carbon fiber manufacturers cancelled or suspended capacity expansion projects, lowering the capacity growth rate to 15.9% and 10.1% in 2009 and 2010 respectively. When the demand picked up in 2010, the carbon fiber expansion projects were started again one after another.
Since the production of carbon fiber requires sophisticated processes and high technology, the capacity of global carbon fiber is mainly concentrated in Japanese and American enterprises. Japan-based Toray, Toho and Mitsubishi Rayon mainly engage in the production of PAN-based small-tow (≤24K) carbon fiber, together accounting for 69.3% of the total capacity of small-tow products in 2010. Among them, Toray is the largest carbon fiber manufacturer in the world, with capacity of 17,900 tons.
U.S.-based Zoltek specializes in manufacturing PAN-based large-tow (> 24K) carbon fiber, with its capacity making up 54.1% of the total capacity of large-tow products in 2010. And Japan-based Kureha devotes itself to producing pitch-based carbon fiber and achieved capacity of 1,450 tons in 2010, ranking as the largest manufacturer of pitch-based carbon fiber in the world.
China’s carbon fiber industry is still in its infancy. Because of lack in core technology, the carbon fiber in China has been in short supply for a long time. In 2010, the capacity of China’s carbon fiber amounted to 6,855 tons, but the actual output was only over 1,000 tons, so 90% of carbon fiber relied on imports. The wide supply-demand gap in Chinese carbon fiber market has spurred the mushrooming of research programs and kiloton-level industrialization projects. As of August 2011, the planned capacity of carbon fiber in China has soared to 70,000-80,000 tons.
Currently, major carbon fiber producers in China include ZhongFuShenYing, Sinosteel Jilin Carbon and Jilin Qifeng Chemical Fiber. ZhongFuShenYing is the largest carbon fiber enterprise in China, with capacity reaching 1,200 tons in 2010. In 2011, the company newly launched 2,000 tons of capacity and has a total carbon fiber capacity of 3,200 tons at present.