Vladimir Khlebnikov , Composite Holding Company
Release Date: 2011-07-01Development of composite industry might result as a serious challenge for Russia and the rest of the world. Vladimir Khlebnikov, first deputy general director of Composite Holding Company, is convinced: the manufacturer offering the lowest price for carbon fiber will turn the world economy upside down.
Mr. Khlebnikov, high technologies is a risk-involving business. What has attracted you to work with Composite Holding Company?
Well, this is not the first time I am dealing with a start-up. I have had a similar experience as one of the top managers of OGK-1 (the first power generation company of the Russian wholesale electricity market, established in 2005 – Editor’s Notes). Composite Holding Company is, of course, a different story. In fact, we are now living a renaissance of the composite industry in Russia. And it evokes the same feeling of anxiety about something unknown. In the very beginning of our way with OGK-1, we had similar tasks: to form a new professional team, attract people with creative thinking and, of course, build relations with our clients and partners. The difference is that now, we are embarking on a task to explore new technologies in application and production of composites that are encountering increasing demand worldwide. Russia shouldn’t stay aside. For this reason, in 2009 we decided to create a vertical structure named Composite Holding Company. This is by all means a new challenge that implies certain risks, just like any other innovation. But, the more challenging the task is, the more rewarding it is for me as a manager to accomplish it! This is my credo.
What industries consume composites?
The traditional markets for composites in Russia are aviation, aerospace and defense. However, the composites are becoming increasingly popular in the civil industries as well. In my view, one of the main growth drivers for composite production in Russia will be the construction industry. We plan to make an especial focus on reconstructing the exhausted infrastructure. In autumn 2010, we have carried out experimental reconstruction of a bridge in Tatishchevo (Samara region) using carbon fiber. The results exceeded all our expectations: bearing capacity of the bridge increased from 20 t to 80 t. Another high potential application for composites is road construction. Using our carbon fiber to produce asphalt concrete increases the durability of the roads, and, most importantly, makes them less sensitive to temperature differences, which is especially important in the Russian hot summers and cold winters that damage the roads.
Why was there a need to create a vertically integrated holding?
Many companies in different industries move along the lines of vertical integration to minimize the costs and boost their competitiveness. Composite Holding Company is no exception. Our aim is to create a production chain of carbon fiber, prepregs and end products. Like this, we hope to gain competitive edge. We have united the existing Russian companies: SNV in Saratov specialized in PAN fibers production, Argon in Balakovo (Saratov region) specialized in carbon fiber production, Carbon and Composite Materials Plant in Chelyabinsk and Prepreg-SKM experimental facility in Klimovsk. Argon in Balakovo was created back in 1976 for the needs of the aerospace industry. Today, it produces high quality materials for the defense industry. Carbon and Composite Materials Plant in Chelyabinsk has been renewed in 2006. In 2009, we launched mass-scale modernization of our facilities that we plan to finish in May 2011.
Administrative decisions are important but not sufficient to create innovative production. What’s equally important is a solid scientific basis...
This is obvious. In the world of composites, the lion share of research data comes from insider research. Do I have to mention that nobody wishes to share such insights? Hence, we have initially taken on a simple rule: create around you what you can’t outsource. This is how the idea to create a research center for carbon fibers and PAN-precursors was born in 2010, when we also established a Council for Science and Technology and invited Russian science gurus. The new members who joined the Council in March 2011 are the leaders of Russian science: Sergei Aldoshin, VP of Russian Science Academy, and director of Institute for Chemical Physics of the Russian Science Academy and Valery Lunin, dean of the Chemistry Department of the Moscow State University. Arrival of these outstanding scientists in our Council for Science and Technology witnesses their understanding of the importance of creating production technology for composite materials in Russia.
Does Composite Holding Company plan to go further than creating a research center?
That’s right. The next step is to create an international engineering center. Firstly, it will improve the existing biofiber and carbon fiber production technologies and open the search for new technologies. MAG Industrial Automation Systems – one of the world largest manufacturers of automatic production lines for metals and carbon fiber placement - is interested in this project. We also plan to attract other Russian and foreign partners and, hopefully, we will be supported by Rusnano.
I have already said that aerospace and defense industries are the traditional target markets for composites. Nevertheless, our task is to demonstrate the advantages of composites for the civil industries as well. Our engineering center will allow our clients test the unique characteristics of composites before buying them. Besides, it will represent opportunities to implement new technologies and train highly qualified professionals. For engineering companies, this is an opportunity to do prototyping and produce trial consignments.
Composites are new generation materials. What factors hinder their implementation in Russia?
One of the main problems is underdeveloped regulations and standards, no authorized options for composites in the construction norms and specifications. Technical regulations envisage no approved descriptions of using composite constructions. Neither are composites mentioned in construction estimates and types of construction works. We need state support to solve this problem. However, we also try to change the situation on our end: jointly with Rusnano, we are preparing standards to be included in some regulations. We also work with RosdorNII (the Russian State Research Institute for Road Infrastructure – Editor’s Notes) to confirm our standards.
Experts are convinced that composites, in the nearest decades, will become strong competitors on the metal market. Is it true, in your view?
Manufacturers of aluminum will always fight for their terrain. However, light and durable materials made of carbon fiber will, in the coming decades, challenge them. Nevertheless, the significant obstacle for mass-scale implementation of carbon fibers in construction is their high price. Let me give you an example. Currently, 1 kg of carbon fiber costs €18. According to the Association of Car Manufacturers, up to 100-200 kg of composites can be used to assemble every single car as soon as their price falls to US$12. Meanwhile, about 100 million cars are produced worldwide. In other words, as soon as we manage to reduce the price of carbon fiber, we will be able to produce up to 5-10 million tons of composites; while only 40,000 tons of composites are produced in the world at the moment. Hence, the manufacturer who manages to produce carbon fiber at this price will change the global economic landscape.
Construction is another industry where carbon fiber demonstrates better physical characteristics than metals. To sum it up, the success of composites might result as painful for ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy and the extracting industries. This is a very serious challenge for Russia, one of the top exporters of raw materials. In my view, the mentioned changes are comparable with the evolution of a prehistoric man in early Stone Age, Bronze Age, etc. We are now in a transition to a different industrial formation. The breakthrough will depend on the speed and efficiency of developing the production technology for PAN-precursors and carbon fiber. This is what we are working at.
Mr. Khlebnikov, what is your assessment of Composite Holding’s prospects in Russia and in the world for the coming years?
Our objective is to create a prosperous innovation company. Success of the hi-tech industry is impossible within the borders of one country. These rules are dictated by innovative economy. Besides, the world market is characteristic for rapid changes and high competition. Hence, we have serious work to do, and what we need is a solid production, technological and scientific basis.
|Company:||Composite Holding Company|
|Position:||First Deputy General Director|