CFK stands for carbon fibre reinforced plastic and describes a composite material of carbon fibres embedded in a plastic matrix. Usually, a CFK component is made of epoxy resin with multiple layers of carbon fibre mats. This compound is exposed to heat at an exact temperature and features the geometry and mechanical characteristics required for the function. But there are also solutions based on thermoplastic and duroplastic materials. Thermoplastics are plastic materials that can take on any shape as long as they are within a specific temperature range. Duroplastics cannot undergo any further thermal processing as soon as they have hardened.
Pools know-how from diverse sectors
To highlight one major aspect that is turning CFK into such a fascinating material, Dr. Gunnar Merz, CEO of Stade Valley e.V., explained: “One vital advantage of carbon fibre composites is the opportunity to precisely determine the characteristics of the resulting component by the design and production technology employed.” Using a model in the Stade showroom, Merz illustrates the effect of the carbon fibre mats’ position on the rigidity or flexibility of a component.
At present, 120 member companies support the CFK Valley. Founded in 2004, it was meant to be a competence network of industry experts that supports the exchange of know-how among companies engaged in new CFK-based designs. This is where mid-sized companies meet for brainstorming and to discuss co-operative projects. The CFK Valley also provides access to so-called technology advisors from aviation, automotive, shipbuilding or renewable energy.
Merz added: “When it comes to CFK applications, our member companies find not only the right type of contacts. We also enable co-operative research projects, arrange business opportunities and support the development of new markets.” To this end, the CFK Valley is seeking more international contacts as demonstrated by the recent establishment of a subsidiary in Japan and co-operations with similar institutions such as EuCIA in Belgium. A global CFK meta cluster is likely to be set up in China and the United States in future.
Directly opposite the CFK Valley is the Hansecampus Stade, which is a private university of applied sciences with special, unique courses in carbon fibre composites. The adjacent Airbus Industries plant is a technology leader in CFK and has been using carbon fibre composites for many years and made the technology ready for markets.
Sustainable solution – recycling CFK
Stade has become a national hub of valuable impulses for CFK applications. The chemical company, Olin, is investing in a large production facility that will produce 120,000 tons of epoxy resin annually. Olin has close contacts to the CFK Valley, where some 30 employees are engaged in basic research programs. CFK Stade Recycling is another interesting player and is one of the first companies worldwide to develop solutions for recycling carbon fibre composites. A structural design made of carbon fibre composites has 40 per cent less weight than comparable aluminium designs. This makes CFK an important material for the mobility needs of the future. Not only in aviation, a lightweight structure results in higher payloads and increased profitability. Used in automobile and railway design, carbon will increasingly replace conventional steel constructions. The Urban Commuter & Connectivity Vehicle (UCCON) will show alternative drive concepts combined with advanced lightweight construction can lead to entirely new mobility concepts.
New possibilities in architecture
In architecture, carbon fibre designs allow filigree structures offering large pillar-free areas, which cannot be built with concrete or steel. One typical example is right outside the Stade CFK Valley – a strikingly different bus stop made only of CFK and was designed by Dr. Ing Amer Affan from the United Arab Emirates. During the inauguration, the focus was on even more spectacular buildings such as an energy efficient home or a carport with integrated solar roof for parking and charging a new generation of electric vehicles. Both will probably be built in the near future. All these developments are giving the Hamburg Metropolitan Region significant economic clout in northern Germany and making it a cradle of future developments albeit known to only a few experts.
Merz believes: “We have the know-how about the material of the future and an annual market growth of about 12 per cent. Now is the time to focus on new technologies to enable the economic industrial production of CFK components. That’s exactly the field in which we will be a significant competence cluster.”
Sources and further information: