Advances in materials science is one of the key drivers re-shaping the global manufacturing industry. And who better to tell us all about the latest trends in this area than Paul Markillie, The Economist’s Innovation Editor and a brilliant technology speaker? I caught up with him the other day and we got talking about one of his favourite new materials – carbon fibre.
You can listen to our conversation on the link above, and see the key points in my brief summary below. And if you’re interested in having Paul speak at your next event, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Some Key Stats on Carbon Fibre
- 50% lighter than steel
- 30% lighter than aluminium
- Requires 70% less water and 50% less energy to make than steel
- It doesn’t corrode
- It’s immensely strong
This has obvious big advantages, for example when manufacturing airplanes and cars – travelling the same distance requires a lot less fuel.
- It’s expensive to make, hence it’s mainly used in high end industries at the moment, such as aerospace, Formula 1 racing and expensive cars.
- So the critical question is whether it can be economical to mass produce. It is already starting to be used in cheaper cars, but it’s not yet clear how far down the value chain it will be efficient to use.
- Some companies, such as BMW, are trying to re-invent the production process to make it cheaper, using their own formula which they produce through a series of joint ventures.
- As per the above, the environmental benefits of using carbon fibre are clear.
- And potentially carbon fibre cars could last a lot longer than their metal equivalents. Their lightness, and the fact that they’d have far fewer inter-locking parts that might break (especially electric cars that use technologies such as regenerative breaking), means they are less likely to need replacing.
- But it’s not yet clear how we’d best dispose of them. One idea is to turn the used carbon fibre into lower grade carbon products for use in other objects.