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Carbon fiber – Searching and evaluating business opportunities for the material of the future

Sommersemester 2011 

Executive Summary

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world’s largest and best-known centers for scientific research and fundamental physics. Founded in 1954, CERN is fully funded by its 20 member states. ATLAS is one of the six particle detector experiments constructed at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator and used to collide particles almost at the speed of light.
The primary target of this project was to find and evaluate new, attractive applications for a special carbon structure simulation and design process, which were developed out of the necessity to create very specific carbon structures for the LHC. Furthermore, the project team was asked to develop applicable commercialization strategies for the most promising application fields, allowing CERN to approach the novel business opportunities.

Initial Situation

Carbon composite structures are already used in many diverse fields, such as car racing or aircrafts. In the course of the creation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a special carbon composite structure that outperforms common carbon in many respects was developed at the ATLAS project. CERN now seeks to share its design know-how in special carbon structures in order to enable people worldwide to participate in the technological achievements of the ATLAS project.

Project Target

The first goal of the project is to discover new and commercially attractive areas of application for the ATLAS carbon composite design technology. Another goal is to evaluate the newly identified application fields with respect to their commercial attractiveness and to develop strategies guiding CERN in exploiting these novel business opportunities. However, CERN does not primarily focus on increasing Return on Investment on their R&D expenditures. They rather aim at creating positive, sustainable impact on the society and industry development. Furthermore, CERN intends to demonstrate the importance of their research and to justify investments financed by the public.

Methodological Approach

In this project, a crowd sourcing based approach to technological competence leveraging has been applied. The idea of this method is to use the power of the crowd in finding and evaluating viable application fields and to gain information necessary for deriving applicable commercialization strategies. This method comprises four steps:

1) Identification of need based benefits through interviews with current and potential users and experts.

2) Search for areas of application by the use of social search techniques (pyramiding and broadcasting) among potential users.

3) Analysis of the commercial attractiveness of the identified areas of application (along the two indicators “strategic fit” and “benefit relevance”.

4) Deduction of an effective commercialization strategy for selected applications.


First, the two core benefits delivered by the CERN technology were identified. They are:
(1) property optimization of carbon structures and
(2) concept and design know-how in carbon structures.

Based on these benefits, further interviews (in total about 150 experts and users were contacted) and broadcasting search was conducted, resulting in 22 different fields of applications, ranging from aircraft, satellites, car industry, shipping to medicine. The application fields which were selected for further analysis are an airplane heating surface to free and protect wings from ice during winter and, secondly, hydrogen fuel systems for satellites to help reducing weight and develop an alternative fuel system. For them, a market-, competitor- and SWOT analysis were conducted in order to assess their attractiveness. The market potential for the airplane heating surface was found to account for about 140bn$. For satellite fuel systems a market potential of about 6.7bn$ was assessed. Both markets are currently growing and seem promising with regard to future perspectives.

However, for both potential applications the key to entering the market is to partner with the industry leaders. Both markets are characterized by a huge demand for capital, resulting in long-term R&D cooperations of the most important market players. For the airplane heating surface, potential partners in R&D would be the main producers of airplanes as they can add a value to their products and incorporate the de-icing business into their business models. With CERN’s know-how, they could implement a de-icing solution into their products, making airplanes independent from costly and timely services provided by airports. Regarding the hydrogen fuel systems, we recommend contacting Magna, as they are currently participating in a conglomerate, which is at the leading edge of the research in this field. In both cases, a non-exclusive licensing agreement is suggested.

If CERN enters into a partnership with the mentioned companies in both identified fields, CERN, the concerned companies as well as the whole industry will be able to benefit from a huge technology advantage that arises.

Cooperation Partner

  • European Organization for Nuclear Research
    ATLAS Group
    CERN CH-1211
    Genève 23

  • Ansprechpartner
    Dr. (FH) Heinz Pernegger
    Tel: +41 76 487 2923

Student Team

  • Johannes Haas
    Stefan Hajek
    Lisa Ittner
    Marco Kroesen
    Daniel Kromoser
    Janine Kroner
    Agnes Rauter
    Bettina Zehetbauer