Hexcel’s Carbon-Fibre Plant, Roussillon, France

Hexcel's carbon-fibre plant in France

Leading advanced composites company Hexcel Corporation broke ground on its new plant integrating production lines for polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor and carbon-fibre at Roussillon, Rhone-Alpes region, France, in May 2015.

The formal announcement to develop the plant was earlier announced in September 2014. Main construction works are expected to start in September 2015 and the new facility is scheduled to start operations in early 2018.

The plant is estimated to cost $250m to build and is expected to generate approximately 120 permanent jobs when it begins operations. It forms part of the many current capacity expansions being implemented by Hexcel at its production sites in Europe and the US. It will primarily serve the aerospace industry in Europe.

Strategic location of Hexcel's carbon-fibre plant in France

The Grenoble-Isère Roches-Roussillon Chemical Park site was chosen for the project, out of the 71 possible sites evaluated worldwide. The new plant, covering an area of approximately 37 acres, will benefit from the existing logistics at the chemical park.

"The plant is estimated to cost $250m to build and is expected to generate approximately 120 permanent jobs when it begins operations."

The site was also chosen due to its close proximity to Hexcel's weaving and prepreg manufacturing facilities near Lyon. The new plant will complement these facilities, which are also being expanded with an additional investment of $22m.

Roussillon carbon-fibre plant and supply details

The new plant will feature polymerisation and carbonisation lines, and associated state-of-the-art control laboratories and offices. The PAN precursor plant will be the first of its kind in Europe and the carbon-fibre facility will be Hexcel's first plant in France.

The carbon-fibre produced from the plant will be supplied primarily to Airbus for manufacturing its A350 'Xtra' wide-body (XWB) aircraft, and Safran for manufacturing its CFM LEAP engine components.

Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor and carbon fibre manufacturing process

PAN precursor is processed by polymerisation of acrylonitrile. For the production of carbon-fibre, the PAN precursor goes through oxidation and carbonisation processes at an extremely high-temperature, which provides it with strength-to-weight and high stiffness-to-weight properties. It further undergoes surface treatment and sizing processes to improve its bonding and handling abilities.

Lanxess, through its subsidiary Bond-Laminates, has expanded production capacity at the Brilon lightweight plastics production plant site in Germany.

The final carbon-fibre product is touted to be stronger than steel, lighter than aluminium and as stiff as titanium, providing high-performance alternatives to these traditional materials. Hexcel markets its carbon-fibre under the brand name HexTow.

Contractors involved

Flour performed the front-end engineering design (FEED) study for the project and has further been contracted to provide engineering, procurement, construction and management (EPCM) services.

Global Location Strategies (GLS) performed the site selection for the project.

Marketing commentary for Hexcel Corporation

Hexcel Corporation, headquartered at Stamford, Connecticut, US, is a leading developer and supplier of advanced structural materials, including carbon-fibres, reinforcements, prepregs, honeycomb core, matrix systems, adhesives and composite structures. The products are used in commercial aerospace, space and defence, wind turbine blades, recreational products, transport and other industrial applications.

The company currently has 18 manufacturing sites in the US, Europe and Asia. It recorded net sales of $1.85bn in 2014, 10.5% higher compared with 2013. It employed 5,663 full-time employees and contract workers as of December 2014.