Teijin undergoes new steps in its journey to sustainability after the COVID-19 pandemic
30. June 2023 | News
The Teijin Group showcased a wide variety of sustainable composite products at JEC World 2023 last April in Paris. The group presented its high-performance materials and composites technologies that can improve manufacturing cycle times, reduce environmental impact and improve consumer safety and comfort.
Shukei “Daniel” Inui, Teijin Group Corporate Officer, General Manager, Carbon Fibers Business Unit, Teijin Limited details herein strategic axes followed by the group to meet the challenge of high competitivity, in a still recovering global economy.
During JEC World 2023, Teijin presented its main carbon-free strategic lines to turn eco-friendly the whole group activities. Can you give us more details about it? More precisely, how does it impact the carbon fibre production activities of the group?
In our carbon fibre business, we are guided by three priorities to involve sustainability into our production process. What comes first is the reduction of the energy demand in precursor and carbon fibre production. We have set annual milestones to measure our progress by minimising the energy demand in heating and in waste gas treatment. By targeting heat recovery and renewable energies, we can go a long way towards reducing our carbon footprint. We are also trying to introduce sustainable raw materials for carbon fibre production. Furthermore, we are focusing on the profitable reclamation or recycling of carbon fibre products. In our carbon fibre plants, scraps come out from our textile materials production and are collected. Then the neat carbon fibres are processed into pelletised products. The upcycling of bypass products and the recycling of waste are integrated into the existing short-fibre business, but to balance the added value and production cost, it is vital that we collaborate closely with our customers.
Development of new technologies that produce zero emissions is also important. Such new technologies include breaking down organic materials, or waste gas treatment, which can convert waste gasses into useful products such as fuel. We also consider something which converts electricity into renewable energy like hydrogen or synthetic fuels.
Then, of course, the impact of all of such actions are clearly analysed through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Information including the price we pay for energy and the cost of CO2 emissions are also monitored.
Achieving sustainability is a process in itself. We will not get there overnight but our journey has already begun and we are well underway to achieving our long-term goals with our partners, who share the same vision.
The Covid-19 health crisis seems to be over now, but new international threats (Ukraine war, energy prices) or home tensions (inflation, level of the Yen) are hovering the economy. In these conditions, how Teijin organises to maintain its competitiveness in the carbon fibre sector?
The supply-demand balance of carbon fibre continues tight as demand for aerospace application, which fell sharply due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is on a recovery trend. Global demand for wind power generation is also growing. Some of our competitors in emerging countries are boosting their production capacities, but we have highly superior technologies, trusted by customers for a long time, and we keep on developing new technologies.
For example, in aerospace, we still sell filaments a lot but the sales volume of intermediate materials are increasing. In addition to conventional thermoset intermediate materials, demand for thermoplastic intermediate materials and non-crimp fabrics is growing. Last spring, we launched a new carbon fibre plant in the state of South Carolina in the U.S. While moving forward with the move toward certification for aerospace applications, which takes time, we are supplying our products for industrial applications such as wind power generation and recreational use, that are in strong demand. In addition, the new prepreg plant in Vietnam is also doing well for sports applications, where customers’ production bases are shifting to Southeast Asia.
We are aware of large-scale production increases by manufacturers in emerging countries, but we will continue to seek regular tow, which requires higher technology for production, and will maintain and strengthen our competitive advantage by continuing to develop products for customers who recognise the quality and value of our products.
How the carbon fibre market and especially demand is evolving and how it would evolve following the group’s forecasts and analysis of the current and near-future situation? How Teijin forecasts and organises to meet these growing demands?
Demand for carbon fibre is expected to grow about 10% annualy. Demand for aerospace applications is on a recovery trend as major aircraft manufacturers are increasing their productions of single-aisle aircrafts in line with the recovery in passenger numbers in Europe, U.S. and China. Demand for general industrial applications is also strong, but there is a downturn due to sluggish demand for automobiles and the impact of the lockdown in China. For recreational use, the growth in demand for outdoor during the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down, and it seems that there is a temporary inventory adjustment in the supply chain. Demand for wind power generation applications continues to be firm, and the expansion trend is expected to continue. However, this application is mainly for general-purpose products, and the supply and demand balance is being eased by manufacturers in emerging countries.
We see the carbon fibre intermediate materials business as a market that can be expected to grow over the long term. In the past few years, we have newly started operations in North America and Vietnam, and our existing European and Japanese bases. Leveraging the geographical advantages of each location, we will provide light, strong, and eco-friendly carbon fibre solutions through business that is close to customers.