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Zoltek Launches Automotive Research Business

By Composites World – 18 April 2010
Zoltek Companies Inc. (St. Louis, Mo., USA) on April 12 announced the formation of a new subsidiary, Zoltek Automotive Inc., to speed the development of high-volume applications for lightweight carbon fibers within the automotive industry. More than a dozen Zoltek engineers and technicians from across Zoltek’s existing business, as well as Zoltek’s globally positioned sales people, will be joined in the new company by two highly regarded experts in automotive composite applications who will lead the Zoltek Automotive group in this effort.

Zoltek has appointed David Stewart, founder of Stewart Automotive Research, to be the chief executive, and Martin O’Connor to be the president of Zoltek Automotive. Stewart has worked with many of the world’s top automakers, oil and gas companies and semiconductor companies in analysis and quality control needed for introducing new materials and processes into mass production. His work has included detailed analysis and computer cost modeling for auto companies in the area of composites. O’Connor, who served as director of McLaren Composites for four years, has a wealth of experience in the composites industry gained from long experience in Formula 1 racing and working on super-car programs. In addition, he has set up a number of companies and carried out extensive consulting work for major composites companies in Europe and Asia developing business strategies, new products and technical partners.

“We have long identified the automotive industry as the biggest single potential user of our low-cost, high-performance carbon fibers,” Zsolt Rumy, Zoltek’s chairman and CEO noted. “While Zoltek has been active in developing automotive applications for carbon fibers for many years, the launch of Zoltek Automotive represents a new initiative to more closely align our development activities with the market opportunities we have identified. We have successfully demonstrated our ability to provide high-volume customers with assured long-term supply of carbon fibers at reliable low costs. As a result, we were able to unlock the first big commercial application for carbon fibers–wind energy– producing the largest and most efficient wind turbine blades. The Zoltek Automotive initiative is established to take the next step in facilitating adoption of carbon fibers by customers in the automotive field. Our objective is to apply Zoltek Automotive’s expertise to make the adaptation of carbon fibers technology and processes easy and efficient by developing new production methods that will enable customers to fabricate cost-effective carbon fiber intermediate products.”

Rumy pointed out that while the use of carbon fibers in large wind turbine blades, building a unidirectional beam, is “relatively simple,” the use of carbon fiber composite in the automotive field is a much more complex proposition. “To speed development,” Rumy said, “we need to provide the automakers and their top-tier suppliers with a comprehensive set of solutions to their needs — everything from reliable supply at predictable low costs and process technology, to design and analysis, to testing, and to fabrication and manufacturing of a wide assortment of composite parts and structures. Zoltek Automotive will provide a 360° view of what needs to be done at every step of the way. The new company will define automotive application opportunities, develop approaches to successfully demonstrate these applications, and develop and implement them into high-volume production either by itself or by partnering with other like-minded partner companies.”

“The value proposition and regulatory environment for carbon fiber automotive components have never been better,” Stewart said. “There is a large and rapidly growing range of applications where these materials are ready to come out of the laboratory and into high-volume production. Our goal at Zoltek Automotive is to combine the materials expertise of Zoltek Companies, Inc. with the automotive analysis tools, testing capabilities, and process knowledge of Stewart Research to match emerging light-weighting opportunities with the right composite designs and manufacturing processes.”

Zoltek Automotive will be based in St. Louis at the Zoltek Companies Inc. headquarters. Rumy said that Zoltek Automotive will be funded through Zoltek Companies Inc. research and development budget, he said, “Going forward, we are targeting our research and development spend at between 6 to 8 percent of our total revenues, and most of that will be concentrated on downstream product development, including the activities that will take place in Zoltek Automotive.”