Phil Collins, an assistant professor of physics at UC Irvine, specialising in carbon nanotubes, said: “If you are a small manufacturer of bike frames or tennis rackets, you can’t throw your weight around like the military. If there’s a shortage, you’re at the bottom of the list."
And Orange County Weekly of California this week zeroes in on the impact of the carbon fibre famine. Contracts - and jobs – are being lost because of the worsening shortages.
The newspaper interviews Juan Arturo Marmolejo of Anchor Products of Anaheim, Los Angeles. He works in a factory that presses spools of carbon fibre into the material that can be used for bicycles or bombers.
Marmolejo said his company is turning down orders it can no longer fill because it is running out of raw materials.
“There’ve been carbon shortages before, but not like this,” said Marmolejo.
“It used to be that the shortage would cause carbon prices to go up. Now you just can’t find any carbon at any price. We’ve had to turn down jobs because we don’t have any material. All of it’s going to the military."
Anchor Products used have five employees; now Marmolejo is the last one left. The company had to lay off the staff when the carbon fibre shortage started biting earlier in the year.
“It used to be that we had a salesman and a buyer working for us, but now I do all that myself,” Marmolejo told Orange County Weekly.
“I do a little bit of everything. I know a big company that buys carbon, and I call them and they tell me if they have any carbon and where I can find it.”
But there's not a lot left.
Marmolejo reckons he’s got enough carbon fibre to last another month or so. He has one more contract to fulfil:
“Once this order is done, our company is probably going to go bankrupt," he said.
The biggest of the world's bicycle makers have said they have secured enough carbon fibre for the next few months but smaller, boutique makers are finding it increasingly hard to get their hands on consistent supplies of 'Black Gold'.