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Birth of Australian-made carbon fibre industry

25 November 2017

The vision for Geelong, Victoria, to be a carbon fibre manufacturing hub producing low-cost high performance material for the Australian and global markets is fast becoming

Greg LeMond with Carbon Nexus PhD student Maxime Maghe at the announcement of the signing of the licensing agreement

Greg LeMond with Carbon Nexus PhD student Maxime Maghe who developed the groundbreaking manufacturing process with Carbon Nexus General Manager Steve Atkiss. Image source: ABC News

a reality with three recent developments.

The developments will hopefully give the Australian composites industry a distinct market advantage and open the opportunity globally for the benefits of carbon fibre to be introduced to applications where the cost has previously been uneconomic.

In August, US-based LeMond Composites and Deakin University announced a A$44 million, exclusive 20-year global licensing agreement to commercialise Deakin’s patent pending manufacturing process to produce

high volumes of high performance, low-cost carbon fibre. The technology, developed by Carbon Nexus PhD student Maxime Maghe and then Carbon Nexus General Manager Steve Atkiss.

“This could make Geelong the new composite valley,” said Greg LeMond, three-time Tour de France champion and CEO/Founder of LeMond Composites.

“Deakin University’s manufacturing process will make it possible to localise manufacturing and make carbon fibre technology more accessible to a wider range of industries like transportation, renewable energy and infrastructure or any industry that benefits from using lighter, stronger, safer materials.”

Nicolas Wegener, COO of LeMond, who negotiated the deal said Deakin’s process oxidises carbon fibre faster, with lower capital and energy costs and greater output

CSIRO's breakthrough recipe is spun into high performance carbon fibre at Deakin's Carbon Nexus

CSIRO’s breakthrough recipe is spun into high performance carbon fibre at Deakin’s Carbon Nexus. Image source: CSIRO

of carbon fibre over a shorter period.

“The process requires 75% less energy and also reduces the amount of process equipment by 75 percent. These factors make the production of low-cost carbon fiber scalable at a velocity that can keep up with the market demand.”

Two months after the license agreement was signed, the federal government announced a $2.5 million grant to LeMond Composites “for the design and build of Australia’s first industrial carbon fibre line”, in the Geelong carbon fibre hub based around Deakin’s Waurn Ponds, Geelong campus.

The manufacturing plant is expected to cost in the order of $30 million and generate much-needed skilled jobs to the region that has seen the recent closure of its

biggest employer, the Ford manufacturing plant. In the meantime, it is understood Mr LeMond is considering commercial production using the university’s carbon fibre line. He is also undertaking a major expansion of his manufacturing headquarters in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to accommodate a carbon fibre line.  

The third development came on 8 November in an address by CSIRO’s Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall to the National Press Club in which he announced a major CSIRO breakthrough.

Australia has joined the elite club of carbon fibre manufacturers using CSIRO patented technology is the first step in creating a generation of carbon fibre that is stronger and of a higher quality, Dr Marshall said.

“Together with Deakin University, we’ve created the seed to grow our manufacturing industry in Australia – generating jobs of the future built on home-grown innovation.”

CSIRO Research Director Dr John Tsanaktsidis said: “On our first attempt we created car-quality carbon fibre – we now expect to improve on that result and produce aerospace standard carbon fibre.”