Toray to expand into wind/automotive markets with Zoltek buy

Japanese carbon fibre maker Toray Industries, which has supplied its material to Boeing 787, is to purchase the entire stake in US manufacturer of large tow carbon fibre Zoltek Companies for US$584. The transaction is expected to close in 2014.

The global demand for PAN-based carbon fibres is expected to expand at an annual growth rate of exceeding 15%. And while regular tow carbon fibre is widely being accepted in the field of high performance/high quality application such as aerospace, large tow carbon fibre is anticipated to expand its applications to wind energy and automobile structural parts. Toray now expects to branch out of the aerospace and natural gas pressure vessel sectors to wind energy and automobile structural parts applications.

Large tow carbon fibre has 40,000 or more number of filaments applied, compared to carbon fibre with 24,000 or less filaments. Large tow is used for applications such as wind turbine blades and reinforced plastics compounds, produced on modified acrylic staple fibre production line for textiles.

The public-listed Zoltek, founded in 1975 by CEO Zsolt Rumy, entered into large tow carbon fibre business in 1988, and acquired textile acrylic fibre plants in Hungary and Mexico in 1996 and 2007 respectively. But in March this year, it faced pressure to make changes when Quinpario Partners, an investment group led by Jeffry Quinn, bought a 10% stake and wanted to change the board, saying new leadership was needed to re-energise the carbon fibre maker’s financial performance. Quinpario had earlier offered to acquire the company. Zoltek has faced declining sales, which it blames on “reduced activity in the wind energy market.” In a bid to expand its markets, Zoltek struck a deal with Magna International to speed development of low-cost carbon fibre sheet moulding compounds for the automotive sector.

Toray also bought bought a 20% equity in automotive composites supplier Plasan Carbon Composites early this year.


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