As time swiftly passes, in 2023, amidst the rapidly advancing wave of technology, the Chinese composite materials industry once again faces new challenges and opportunities. Reflecting on the past, we deeply realize that continuous innovation and exploration are the inexhaustible driving forces behind the industry's development. This year, the composite materials field has made significant progress in technological breakthroughs, market expansion, and sustainable development. In response to the new industry landscape in 2023, we have conducted a thorough review and analysis of key events based on the results of the "Top 10 News in Chinese Composite Materials Industry for 2023" selection and collection activity. This provides industry colleagues with more comprehensive and profound insights and also serves as a reference for foreseeing future changes and trends.
On November 9th, Guangdong Zhongwei Composite Material Co., Ltd. manufactured the first 500-passenger carbon fiber high-speed ferry "Xin Mingzhu 2" for the Hong Kong New Ferry Outlying Islands Project and held a water blessing ceremony. This marks a significant achievement in China's use of advanced composite material technology in the manufacture of large vessels. The application of Chinese composite materials in marine engineering is growing rapidly, especially in deep-sea exploration and marine platform construction. Carbon fiber composite materials, known for their light weight, high strength, and strong corrosion resistance, are driving the industry's transformation towards low-carbon environmental protection. The market size of China's new marine materials has exceeded one trillion yuan, with domestic demand expected to grow at an annual rate of about 17% over the next five years. Composite materials provide more developmental space for innovation and development in marine engineering. As the technology for composite materials in marine engineering continues to mature and develop, their market share in marine engineering will increasingly grow.
On November 17th, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. (COMAC) issued a "Call for Demand in High-Performance Fiber Materials for Large Aircraft Industry" at the "2023 China Composite Materials Industry Association Annual Meeting and the 5th Carbon Fiber Composite Materials Industry Innovation and Development Summit Forum". This represents an important milestone in the development of aviation composite materials in China. The call aims to promote the domestication of aviation composite materials, focusing on three main aspects: new materials, new processes, and new technologies. New materials include various high-strength carbon fibers, high-performance epoxy resins, and high-performance thermoplastic composites; new processes cover adhesive automation surface treatment and low-carbon molding processes; while new technologies focus on structural welding and multi-scale virtual testing technologies. Through this call for demand, the potential application of advanced materials in the large aircraft sector in niche fields is expanded, and the participation of specialized and innovative enterprises will further enhance the advanced level of aviation materials. In 2023, with the completion of the C919 passenger aircraft industry system, the domestication rate reached about 60%, greatly driving the development of the composite materials industry and related technologies. China Eastern Airlines, as the main operator of the C919, has operated 655 commercial flights and transported nearly 82,000 passengers by the end of 2023. By 2023, four C919 aircraft had been delivered to China Eastern Airlines, with a cumulative total of 20 expected by 2025. The yearly increase in the delivery of C919 aircraft signifies a new growth point in the civil aviation sector for the composite materials industry. This not only marks the transition of the C919 from trial operation to large-scale operation but also fully demonstrates that China's aviation technology has reached an international advanced level. With the advancement of more and more innovative collaborations, the Chinese aviation composite materials industry is expected to occupy a more important position in the global aviation field.
In Jiangyin City, a key phase in the construction of the Huangshan Road cable-stayed bridge has been completed with the installation of the stay cables. This bridge features 48 ultra-high-strength stay cables, including two approximately 104-meter-long carbon fiber composite cables, a first in China. The Huangshan Road bridge is 248 meters long and 36.5 meters wide, primarily consisting of a split-type steel box girder, a herringbone-shaped bridge tower, and saddle-shaped double plane stay cables. It's a vital part of the Binjiang Road expressway transformation project. The use of carbon fiber composite materials not only enhances the bridge's load-bearing efficiency and span but also addresses the issues of corrosion and fatigue found in traditional steel cables, providing advanced solutions for constructing lighter, longer-lasting high-performance bridge structures. Carbon emissions from the national building material production stage account for about 28% of total emissions, with steel, cement, and aluminum materials accounting for over 90% of energy consumption. In the construction field, besides bridge engineering, composite materials are also used in building envelopes and plastic-replacement anchor rods, displaying unique advantages such as light weight, high strength, corrosion resistance, and design flexibility. These characteristics not only enhance the safety and durability of buildings but also offer broader creative possibilities for modern architectural design, paving new paths for future urban construction and architectural aesthetics.
China Building Materials Group's achievements through its subsidiaries - the North Glass Technology and Engineering Co., Ltd., South Glass Technology Co., Ltd., and Harbin Glass Group - have found important applications in the aerospace field. On May 30th, the high-strength yarn developed by South Glass Technology was used in the thermal protection and insulation layers of the Long March 2F Y16 rocket and the Shenzhou-16 manned spacecraft, providing critical support for spacecraft launch and docking. North Glass Technology supplied medium-density premix and high-performance ablation-resistant resin for key parts of the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft. On October 26th, the Long March 2F Y17 rocket carrying the Shenzhou-17 successfully launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The load-bearing thin-walled reinforced truncated cone of the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft, made of large-scale carbon fiber composite materials, was a first in the history of China's manned spaceflight, marking a significant advancement in the field of aerospace composite materials in China. Advanced composite materials in aerospace, known for their lightweight, high strength, and ablation resistance, significantly improve the performance and safety of manned spacecraft. With continuous advancements in new raw materials, design technology, and manufacturing processes for composite materials, their application in aerospace will further expand, enhancing the safety and load-bearing efficiency of spacecraft.
On June 24th, a rotating cylinder sail manufactured by Zhongfu Lianzhong was successfully installed at the shipyard, setting a record for the world's first bulk carrier equipped with a rotating cylinder sail 5 meters in diameter and 35 meters high. This marks a practical application of wind-assisted propulsion technology in ships. The rotating cylinder sail utilizes the Magnus effect, generating thrust through a pressure difference created by rotation, thereby reducing fuel consumption and representing a significant innovation in energy saving and emission reduction for the shipping industry. Ships equipped with this new type of rotating cylinder sail can save over 5% of fuel on specific routes. A 100,000-ton bulk carrier with one set of sail propulsion systems can save 1.5 tons of fuel per day, reducing CO2 emissions by 4.65 tons. Compared to traditional sails, it occupies less deck space, effectively withstands harsh wind conditions, and is particularly effective in crosswinds. During its manufacturing, the rotating cylinder sail employed a novel clustered dry-wet layer filament winding technique, achieving efficient production of large, high-precision sails under complex stress conditions, a first both domestically and internationally. With continuous innovation and application expansion of composite materials in marine engineering, these are becoming a core element in driving ship design innovation and environmentally friendly and efficient transportation, bringing revolutionary changes to marine engineering and the shipping industry. Looking forward, the development of marine composite materials is expected to play an increasingly crucial role in various fields such as ocean exploration, deep-sea operations, and marine environmental protection.
A nearly 100-meter-long thermoplastic composite wind turbine blade, using Arkema Group's Elium® thermoplastic resin, has successfully come off the production line at Sinoma Science & Technology Co., Ltd.'s Funing Company, setting a new global record for the length of thermoplastic composite wind turbine blades. This achievement follows the footsteps of wind blade pioneers TPI and LM Wind Power, making Sinoma Science & Technology Co., Ltd. the third professional enterprise to produce full-size wind turbine blades using thermoplastic resin. As a global leader in wind turbine blade manufacturing for over a decade, Sinoma Science & Technology Co., Ltd. has been collaborating with well-known domestic turbine manufacturers on the joint development of thermoplastic blades since 2019. The successful production of this blade signifies a milestone in the project. Over the past 20 years, China's wind power installed capacity has rapidly increased. From 41.827 million kilowatts in 2010 to over 400 million kilowatts in 2023, China has made a significant contribution to global sustainable energy development and has driven a major leap from following to surpassing in the field of composite materials for wind power. During the same period, the sustainable development of traditional thermoset composite wind turbine blades has presented numerous challenges to the industry. By 2030, it is anticipated that there will be an astounding 800,000 tons of retired, environmentally safe wind turbine composite waste. The successful production of thermoplastic composite wind turbine blades offers a viable solution for transitioning wind turbine blades to green products.
The State Council has issued the "Action Plan for Continuous Improvement of Air Quality," emphasizing the acceleration of the elimination of backward production capacities in heavily polluting industries and promoting a shift to clean production. Clean production involves measures in design, material selection, process technology, management, and comprehensive utilization to reduce pollution at the source and enhance resource efficiency, thereby mitigating impacts on the environment and human health. In September 2023, the Clean Production Center of the Chinese Academy of Environmental Sciences held a launching and technical exchange meeting for the fiberglass industry clean production audit pilot innovation project in Zaoqiang, discussing clean production solutions and related policies for composite materials. Since 2003, China has been developing clean production standards for various industries, focusing on heavily polluting sectors. By the end of 2016, over 10,000 enterprises were included in the clean production audit, covering both heavily polluting and clean industries. The reports from the 19th and 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China highlighted the importance of clean production, leading to the issuance of the "14th Five-Year National Clean Production Implementation Plan," providing policy support for enterprises to independently develop clean production technologies and equipment. The composite materials industry faces challenges such as low added value, weak R&D capabilities, low mechanization, small and scattered enterprise scales, and rough product quality. These issues have affected the industry's image and restricted its development. Against the backdrop of industrial transformation and sustainable development, the industry faces opportunities and challenges, with clean production being an urgent priority. Only through the updating of process technologies and equipment to fundamentally achieve clean production can the composite materials industry improve its economic benefits and market competitiveness.
At the beginning of the year, Xinjiang Longju New Materials Co., Ltd. initiated its phase one project to produce 50,000 tons of high-performance carbon fiber annually. The demand for the 6,000 tons of carbon fiber products from its two production lines already exceeds supply. This development positions the company as the second in China, following Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical, to produce 48K carbon fiber. Once completed, it will become one of the largest carbon fiber raw material bases in the world. The project plan includes 8 carbonization workshops and 16 production lines, to be completed in four phases, ultimately achieving an annual output of 50,000 tons. As of March 2023, China's annual carbon fiber production capacity exceeded 100,000 tons, a 65% increase compared to the end of 2021, accounting for 43.3% of the global share. The rapid development of carbon fiber and its composite materials in China has driven continuous progress in related technologies and product quality, enhancing China's competitiveness in the global high-performance composite materials market. Leading domestic carbon fiber enterprises are gradually turning losses into profits. However, faced with challenges like overcapacity, inventory backlogs, and falling prices, carbon fiber companies are under survival pressure. Before the market for carbon fiber composite materials matures, there is hope for a return to rationality in the market, focusing on "internal strength" by improving product research and development and market application exploration.
In 2023, Cathay Biotech achieved a significant breakthrough in the field of bio-based composite materials by successfully developing a one-step method for producing high-temperature polyamide from bio-based materials, which was validated on a 5,000-ton pilot line. This innovative technology drastically reduces polymerization time to less than 1% of the traditional process, and it allows for controlled adjustment of the product's melting point within the range of 290-310°C. This overcomes the high energy consumption, long production time, and difficult discharge issues associated with traditional high-temperature nylon processes. Furthermore, based on this technology, the company has produced high-performance bio-based thermoplastic fiber composite materials containing over 70% glass fiber. These materials have been applied in commercial trial production of products like semi-trailer floors, containers, construction templates, refrigerated boxes, and logistics pallets, providing green and low-carbon solutions for logistics transportation, new energy, and construction sectors. Additionally, the Central Economic Work Conference in December 2023 emphasized the importance of biomanufacturing as a strategic emerging industry, proposing to develop new industries like biomanufacturing and broadly apply digital intelligence and green technologies to accelerate the transformation and upgrading of traditional industries. Bio-based composite materials show tremendous potential in achieving sustainable development and low-carbon transformation. By 2023, the global market size for bio-based composite materials is expected to exceed $30 billion, with a projected annual compound growth rate of over 15% in the next five years. The large-scale application of bio-based composite materials in China started relatively late and requires increased targeted policy support to expand their application.
The "West-to-East Hydrogen Transmission" pipeline project, as a key milestone in China's long-distance hydrogen transportation, symbolizes the beginning of a new era in the construction of a cross-regional hydrogen pipeline network in the country. Originating in Ulanqab, Inner Mongolia, and ending at Yan Shan Petrochemical in Beijing, this pipeline spans over 400 kilometers. This initiative is expected to effectively alleviate the supply and demand imbalance of green hydrogen in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, thereby promoting the transformation and upgrading of the energy structure. The project not only enhances the utilization potential of green hydrogen in the western region but also represents a more economical and efficient way of hydrogen transportation, significantly contributing to the availability and cost reduction of hydrogen for end-use. The use of composite materials in the construction of hydrogen pipelines plays a crucial role. Compared to traditional steel pipelines, hydrogen pipelines made from composite materials are lighter, more corrosion-resistant, and have superior high-pressure resistance, making them particularly suitable for long-distance and high-pressure transportation environments. In 2022, the National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration jointly released the "Medium and Long-Term Plan for Hydrogen Energy Industry Development (2021-2035)", proposing that by 2060, hydrogen should account for at least 20% of China's terminal energy system, with the market size expanding by 8 to 10 times. In the field of new energy, composite materials have been widely used in new products such as battery boxes, electrolysis cells, hydrogen storage cylinders, and photovoltaic components, becoming a new growth point in the composite materials industry.
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