£22 million for high tech materials

Posted on 26 Nov 2009 by The Manufacturer

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson today announced £22 million of new investment for the development of composite materials, at the RBS Williams Formula 1 Centre.

The investment is made up of £16m for a new National Composites Centre in the Bristol area (£12m from central Government, £4m from the South West Regional Development Agency) and £5m to fund a new ‘Grand Challenge’ competition run by the Technology Strategy Board, as well as £1m upfront funding to help develop challenge bids. The competition’s winning firm will receive funding to develop new composites manufacturing techniques.

In the ‘UK Composite Strategy’ document the business secretary estimates that the high value composites market is worth about £1bn to the UK economy. The UK offshore composite wind turbine blade and aerospace wing market alone could be worth £22 billion by 2020 – highlighting composites’ low carbon credentials.

Mandelson said: “Any modern economy is built on the ability to exploit the opportunities on offer by new and existing high value markets – such as composites.
“Today’s new strategy will help us to exploit the potential of composite materials which could help us lower carbon emissions, make cost savings by making things which last longer and boost our position globally making the UK the place to produce and develop composites.”

Rachel Woolerton of Hexcel, a leader in composite technologies with manufacturing and R&D operations in Duxford, Cambridge, said: “We are delighted that the British government recognises the growing strategic importance of composite materials in aerospace, wind energy and other high performance industries.” Hexcel developed a new carbon fibre/epoxy prepreg material for Airbus that will be used by airframe manufacturers around the world to manufacture the primary structures of the new A350 XWB, including wing structures, fuselage and empennage. Hexcel supplies composites to wind turbine blade manufacturers.

The new Composites Strategy explains how the Government plans to support British firms involved in manufacturing, utilising and exporting composites and composite technology, with the aim of maintaining the UK’s position in this growth field. Up to now the composites industry has been too sector-specific which has limited both the development of a cohesive industry and the transfer of technology to the manufacture of products in other sectors which could be built using composites.

Lightweight yet super strength composites have been critical to recent British motor racing success and are also used in the manufacture of yachts, civil and military aircraft and will increasingly be used in offshore wind turbine blades.

Stephen Radley, director of policy at EEF, said: “Priming the research base to partner with industry to develop and commercialise innovative products and technologies will be a key strand in building an internationally competitive composites sector in the UK and proposals to fund and coordinate research into rapid manufacturing are a step forward in meeting these ambitions.

“However, the strategy needs to be viewed in the context of the broader support picture and measures to provide long-term finance for growth.”

Photo shows HexTow(R) carbon fibre from Hexcel