nova-Institut: Study about the use of natural fibres in composites for the German automotive production from 1999 till 2005

Since 1996 the nova-Institut has been surveying data on the use of natural fibres (NF) in the German automotive production. In a comprehensive investigation by means of email questionnaires and telephone interviews, the data for the years 2004 and 2005 were surveyed in the summer half-year of 2006.

Like in previous years, here the data of the suppliers active in Germany were focused upon and could almost entirely be surveyed. Additional exemplary interviews of employees of automotive companies, NF mat producers, machine manufacturers and raw material suppliers served the purpose of further ensuring the data. The results of the survey are now published.

Only weakened growth in the past two years – new production processes appeared

In 2005, for the first time 19,000 t of natural fibres (without wood and cotton) were used in automotive composites. At the same time the shares of natural fibres used have changed. While exotic natural fibres jute & kenaf, sisal, coir and abaca could increase substantially between 2000 and 2004 both on a percentage basis and absolutely, there has been a stagnation ever since.

This is directly linked to the prices of European flax fibres that were quite high in the same period and have been decreasing again as recently as since 2004; simultaneously in recent years there were significant price increases for jute and kenaf on the world market. Accordingly flax could expand its market position again in the 2004 and 2005. The shares of hemp are mainly determined by the short supply. Due to the failure of a large producer, the use decreased in 2004, then recovering again.

Prospects for future development

Regarding the future market development of natural fibre reinforced composites, there presently isn`t any clear trend noticeable. Estimates are wide apart within the automotive branch. There is belief on the one hand that natural fibres have already passed their peak and their applications will decrease, and on the other that there is a stabilisation with a (slight) market growth and interesting potentials in the medium term. No clear direction for NF materials: Successes in the past, weakening at the moment, and an interesting future this is how an insider summarised the current situation in the summer of 2006.

The full version of the study (10pp,) is available for free:

Use of natural fibres in composites for the German automotive production from 1999 till 2005


nova-Institut vom 2006-12-21.