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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

Firms focus on carbon fiber for automobiles

Jiji

With carbon fiber becoming more widely used in automobiles, Japanese materials makers are hurrying to establish stable supply systems.

Global demand for carbon fiber, which is lighter than aluminum and stronger than iron, is seen surging to 140,000 tons in 2020, up fourfold from 2011.

For automobiles, carbon fiber is now used only in some high-end models. But its use will likely be expanded to mass-market models in line with the introduction of tighter regulations on carbon dioxide emissions in Europe and the United States around 2015.

Teijin Ltd. has developed the world's first technology to produce a carbon fiber-based auto frame within a minute. In December, it began feasibility tests for mass production of these car frames.

If used commercially, the technology is expected to cut production costs for carbon fiber frames dramatically. At present, they are tens of times higher than those of steel frames. Teijin plans to supply carbon fiber frames to its U.S. partner, General Motors Co.

Since 2011, Toray Industries Inc., the world's largest carbon fiber producer, has been supplying Daimler AG with carbon fiber for the German automaker's luxury cars and electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi Rayon Co. has been in a similar partnership with BMW AG also since 2011. Last November, the Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. unit bought Japanese and German companies that have carbon fiber production and processing technologies.

Teijin, Toray and Mitsubishi Rayon, which together account for 70 percent of global carbon fiber output, are also negotiating separately with Japanese automakers on carbon fiber supplies.

"We aim to expand our customer base further," a Mitsubishi Rayon official said.



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