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[Image above] Credit: Engineering at Cambridge, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Business is soaring for ceramic matrix composites.

A recent market report indicates that the CMC market is projected to reach a value of $7.51 billion by 2026, largely driven by demand from the aerospace industry, in addition to defense and automotive applications.

Composed of coated ceramic fibers embedded in a ceramic matrix, ceramic matrix composites can offer key advantages over other materials—for example, CMCs are as tough as, weigh less than, and are much more temperature resistant that metals.

That last one is a boon for turbine engines, like those that power jets and power plants, because the ability to operate at hotter temperatures allows higher operating efficiencies, offering a significant way to save energy while boosting performance.

CMCs actually debuted in jet engines a few years ago in CFM International’s LEAP engine. The first commercial jet engine to feature CMC components, the LEAP engine incorporates 18 stationary CMC turbine shrouds that can withstand temperatures of 2,400ºF.

Together with other improvements, the CMC shroud allows the LEAP engine to operate 15% more efficiently than its predecessor engine. Today, more than 14,270 LEAP engines have been ordered.

CMCs are such impressive materials that GE Aviation now expects that increased jet engine production will increase demand for CMCs tenfold over the next decade.

Likewise, GE Aviation just announced that it’s expanding two of its CMC manufacturing plants in North Carolina, one in Asheville and one in West Jefferson. The company will invest an additional $105 million in the plants.

It was just a few years ago that GE invested $200 million in another pair of factories dedicated to manufacturing silicon carbide. Those factories in Huntsville, Ala., supply the raw materials (silicon carbide fibers and tape) for the newly-expanding CMC factories in Asheville and West Jefferson.

In addition to the LEAP engine, GE also is incorporating CMC materials into combustor and high-pressure turbine sections of its newer GE9X engine, the largest jet engine ever built with an 11-foot-wide fan. There are almost 700 GE9X engines currently on order.

To supply CMC components for both the LEAP and GE9X engines, GE Aviation says it will create 131 new jobs at the Asheville plant—increasing its workforce from 425 to 556 employees—and 15 new positions at West Jefferson—increasing its workforce from 270 to 285 employees. The Asheville plant only opened in 2014 and was the first GE plant to mass produce CMC jet engine components.

“We are very pleased to continue expanding our GE Aviation business in Asheville,” Michael Meguiar, Asheville plant leader, says in a GE news release. “We continue to build on a great workforce, culture and community that supports advanced manufacturing jobs in western North Carolina. This merging of technology and a strong, creative workforce is the foundation of our success. Our site continues to grow as we win components for our next generation of engines such as the GE9X and the CFM LEAP. I’m very proud of the technology advances and the continued competitiveness that our teams have been able to demonstrate.”

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