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Technology speaker Paul Markillie on how carbon fibre is revolutionising manufacturing

Technology speaker

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.

Happy listening!



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

Great Benefits…

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.

Environmental Impact

  • 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.

Technology speaker Paul Markillie on how better batteries will change the world

In a January marked by geopolitical tensions and market upheaval, it was a welcome change of mood to catch up with expert technology speaker Paul Markillie and talk about technology’s potential to make people’s lives better. In the first of three conversations, we discussed how better batteries are set to change the world and create all kinds of new markets. In Paul’s view, this is one of the most important technologies we’ll see in the next decade. As the Economist’s Innovation Editor, he should know.

You can listen to our conversation on the Soundcloud 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.

Happy listening!


Energy Storage

  • Better batteries could make it possible to store power generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar, allowing businesses and homes to go off-grid. This would transform the energy industry.

Electric Cars

  • Most electric cars currently use lithium ion batteries, which cost US$400-500 per kilowatt hour.
  • But the new Chevy Bolt’s battery costs only US$145 per kilowatt hour. The industry is moving towards batteries costing only US$100 per kilowatt hour, which would allow these cars to compete with petrol engines.
  • This is being driven by the development of new lithium compounds, as well as materials that make solid-state batteries more viable.

Rival technologies

  • However, not everyone in the motor industry is convinced that batteries are the way forward. 
  • For example, Toyota has focused on hydrogen fuel cell powered electric cars such as its Mirai model. They argue these would be able to travel further and would be more convenient – they could be charged at the equivalent of petrol stations, rather than having to be topped up via cables at home.

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