We came across an interesting article from High-Performance Composites Editor-In-Chief, Jeff Sloan about the future price of carbon fiber. You should read his article, but I thought it would be worth summarizing.
Basically, there are two main reasons why we haven’t seen carbon fiber used more commonly in primary vehicle structures. The first, is the amount of mold cycle time. This is essentially the time it takes to put a part in the mold, impregnate the part with resin, cure the resin and release the part from the mold. The magic number here is two minutes or less. The second concern is the cost of carbon fiber per pound. In 1989 the magic number of $5/lb was set by the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) for where they needed the price to be.
While the mold cycle time has been drastically reduced and continues to be improved by companies like Teijin, Globe Machine, Audi (Dieffenbacher and KraussMaffei) and Quickstep, the price of carbon fiber has not seen the drop that has been hoped for. During the Carbon Fiber 2012 conference held just last month most of the carbon fiber manufacturers not only said that $5/lb carbon fiber is not anywhere close…but also that is most likely never even possible. The efficiencies in manufacturing costs and time will not affect the price of the raw material.
Sloan goes on to say that the argument for using carbon fiber in automotive applications goes beyond the pure cost of the material. Rather, “throughout the vehicle’s lifecycle by vastly increasing fuel-efficiency, prolonging product life and preserving resale value.” He mentions that is how carbon fiber was chosen in composite-intensive aircraft’s such as the Boeing Dreamliner (787).