Monthly Archives: January 2011

Innovations in Composites – Dream BIG!

Hello again,

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is in session at Davos as I begin writing this post. Economists and business leaders at the WEF unanimously stated that the global economy was set for a broad recovery this year But they also warned that inflation and protectionism could derail economies. Chastened by the recovery underway of the global economic crisis, leaders concede that the world has indeed changed and called for a new approach to ensure greater prosperity for all.

There could not have been a more factual description of  the  global scenario.


Without doubt, it was renewable energy in its various forms that hogged the news. Tidal power is the exciting new kid on the block and threatening to pale even offshore wind energy while onshore wind watches the action as if it were a part of history! Essentially, tides – the cyclical rushing of water towards shore or back towards the ocean, generate power. A New York company has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to install up to 30 new tidal power turbines in the east channel of New York’s East River. The three blades of the underwater turbines are naturally made of composites.

But, hey, we are not done yet! NASA is researching a jet stream 30,000 feet above the ground (where wind blows consistently at 150mph) to get 50 times more wind power (read GW) than ground-based turbines. Instead of 500 watts per meter for ground-based turbines, we are talking of 20,000-40,000 watts per square meter at 30,000 feet. At 2000 feet, wind velocity is double to triple that at ground level and power goes up with the cube of the wind velocity.

From the depths of the ocean to (near) sky high altitudes, there is power to be tapped. What is required is inspiration, conviction and (no doubt), possibly a slice of luck to succeedFascinating and surreal, for sure!

In December 2010, the Styrene Industry Group (SIRC) of the American Composites Manufacturing Association (ACMA) approved a change in its recommended 8-hour average occupational exposure limit (OEL) for styrene from 50ppm to 20ppm. The Group is expected to adopt a recommended short-term exposure limit of 70ppm. Industry experts believe that state-of-the art ventilation control can reliably achieve exposures of 50ppm in typical open molding operations.


The recent announcement of a cut in defense spending by the U.S. is not entirely surprising. It does not imply that the world is  now a safer place. Rather, the market is more global with significant potential for growth in the Middle East and Asia, thereby retaining the overall balance as far as composites demand for military applications, including armor protection, is concerned. Defense contractors have been smart enough over the years to establish different regional manufacturing locations thereby factoring any nation’s imbalances (read: dip) in military spending.


Another sector that featured prominently this month has been automotive. In Europe, auto builders are subject to considerable pressure to conform to the Euro 6 emission standard which becomes effective in 2014. EU countries will be obliged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions of new cars to 130 grams/km by 2015. In the U.S. automakers have begun raising fleet fuel economy standards in annual steps to 35.5 mpg for 2016 models – a 30% rise from the 27.3 mpg of the 2011 model year. Automakers are already accelerating the use of composites on the way to 2016. GM plans to trim 500 lbs from its light trucks by 2016 and as much as 1000 lbs per truck by  the early 2020s. Carbon fibers are poised to account for a major chunk of the usage with leading fiber producers having announced strategic tie-ups with auto majors such as BMW, Daimler and others. The recent North American International Auto Show at Detroit was a clear pointer to the resurgence of the U.S. auto sector. If austerity was the watchword at the show for the past three years, growth and new investment capitalizing on the upswing was the dominant mood this year. J.D Power & Associates expects U.S. auto sales to reach 12.8 million vehicles in 2011 and 15 million in 2012.

Global Industry Analysts (GIA) new report on engineered plastics notes that the global market will exceed 20 million tonnes by 2015, fueled by restored health in most end-use markets, especially the automotive sector. Europe and Asia Pacific will account for a majority of the share. There will be greater use of glass reinforced nylon 66 for under-the-hood applications, while polycarbonate and its alloy combinations will also see increased use in automotive, construction and medical products. The slew of other glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic products already in use  in various market segments will continue to grow significantly.

It sure is party time for composites.


The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) recently published three revised Voluntary Specifications (AAMA 623-10, 624-10  and 625-10) related to Factory Applied Organic Coatings on FRP thermoset profiles. This has mainly come about by the architectural community recognizing the attributes associated with FRP thermoset profiles for windows, doors and related building products. The coatings provide a certain level of performance in terms of film integrity, exterior durability and general appearance over a span of years.

As the U.S. economy slowly revs back to life, the housing market is being left behind like Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone“… that was the opening sentence in a recent CNBC column. The interesting tailpiece was that the White House market value has dropped by nearly 25% ($80 million) since the peak of the housing boom!

Last week, ratings agency Fitch stated that most sovereigns in the GCC region (Middle East) were providing stimulii to their economies through government-sponsored infrastructure projects deriving advantage of their significant oil revenues and sovereign wealth funds. The IMF has projected the UAE economy to grow at 3.2 % this year while Qatar alone is projected to grow at 17.9%, riding high on its vast LNG reserves. It’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup Soccer has very little to do  (as of now) with this high growth.


When it comes to harvesting energy, there is no dearth of innovative ideas. A Swedish company recently announced that it has found a way to channel body heat from hordes of commuters passing through Stockholm Central Station to warm another building just across the road. How does it work? Heat exchangers in the Central Station’s ventilation system convert the excess (human) body heat into hot water which is then pumped to the heating system in the nearby building to keep it warm. We have heard of solar energy used to warm buildings,but the aforementioned novelty takes the cake. WOW!

It was more by accident (than by design) that this post discussed incredibly exciting innovative concepts. Technology can surely render our lives more interesting and make us indulge in fantasizing…sometimes it can be a welcome diversion!

Till the next post,

S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


Polymers & Composites: Exciting Prospects Ahead, But Brace For Higher Prices

Hello everyone,

At the outset, I wish all readers the very best in 2011 as we usher in the second decade of the millennium.

I hope that most of you would be back at work after surviving the traffic snarls and snafus caused by inclement weather in many parts of Europe and North America. When centimeters become inches (and I am intentionally not referring to the system disconnect in which the units are expressed), snow can often be the bete noire of winter travel!


While not tending to sound ominous, Q1 could well witness currency wars – that was the screaming headline in a column in Newsweek on New Year’s day. On the economic front, the “love thy neighbor” cliche is poised to take a backseat with nations tending to overvalue their currencies and pricing their goods out of world markets. There is lurking danger of  trade restrictions coming to the fore and more extreme controls of capital flows by nations. The anticipated new world of co-operation could turn into a nightmare of allegations of exchange-rate manipulations. I recall mentioning in my August 2, 2010 post that the “charity begins at home” adage would be the new norm for most nations in their bid to counter inflation and declining exports and protect their own respective job markets. While one hopes that such extremes do not happen, it would be wise to brace for such eventualities in the short term, rather than be caught by surprise.


The run up to the New Year also saw an announcement by the EU that it proposes to scale back the anti-dumping duty on Chinese glass fiber imports from current levels of 43.6% to 13.8% starting late Q1. The European Composites Industry Association(EUCIA), which has been clamoring for a reduction, has welcomed the initiative. Will India follow suit?

Perhaps the biggest news on the Composites front has been the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) by the U.S. Congress; thereby providing a new lease of life for the wind energy sector. There has been a flood of tweets for the past two weeks in the aftermath of  the announcement  and there is already talk of projects being revived in droves and a possible encore (in 2011) of the heady record of GW installed in 2009. Is China listening? It sure is game on for the numero uno slot!


The plethora of good news on composites continued with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announcing a multi-million dollar grant for advanced vehicle R&D which includes “design, prototyping and testing of passenger vehicles that are 50% lighter using lightweight materials” Glass, carbon fiber and resin producers should naturally be enthused with this news!

Would expansion plans be on the anvil in the near future considering the fact that the gestation period to commercialization is around 3 years?

The tip of the iceberg insofar as plastics and composites usage is concerned is the high-speed rail and urban subway systems in Asia. This sector represents one of the fastest growing segments in the transportation arena. China, which boasts of the world’s longest high-speed rail network is building a nationwide network of bullet trains. Taiwan has opened its own high-speed rail system and cities in India are expanding subways and urban rails. The growing need for the rail sector to lightweight its vehicles on the same lines as the aerospace and automotive sectors transcends the growth in Asia. Plastics and composites have the potential to save energy and cut down on vibration and noise in the new generation trains.

Europe is expected to continue maintaining its robust growth in this sector. Bayer’s extensive work on successful introduction of high performance plastics (chiefly polycarbonate) in the rail sector is well known. Global train car producer Bombardier, with HQ in Montreal, works closely with its Aerospace Division and draws upon the latter’s design expertise when replacing metal components with composites. This is one bandwagon that composites producers should  definitely latch on to in the coming years since the pie is large enough and growth rates in the high (double digit) teens!

More good news on composites for structural applications. The ACMA Pultrusion Industry Council (PIC) has recently completed a 3-year project successfully with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to develop Pre-Standard for Load & Resistance Factor Design (LFRD) of Pultruded FRP Structures”. This Pre-Standard was developed using principles of probability-based limit design to provide structures using pultruded structural shapes similar to design standards currently used for steel, wood and aluminum.


Speaking of investments, plans by Fiber Glass Industries (FGI, New York) to invest in equipment for a new advanced fiber strand also made news last month.

Another investment that made headlines was DSM‘s decision to set up a JV in India for manufacture of unsaturated polyester resins and specialty vinyl esters. The availability of quality glass fibers and resins produced by global majors in India augurs well for the composites industry in Asia which is still on track in garnering 50% global composites usage by 2015.

Renewable energy news continues to hog headlines. The imperative need to move away from fossil fuels has never never been so acute as we speak. Wind power is providing nearly half of the UK’s renewable electricity and the country is on the verge of having 10% of its electricity generated from renewable sources. In Q3 2010, contribution from wind power rose by 37% compared to the same quarter in 2009. 33% of electricity from renewables by 2020 is doable according to a column in the Telegraph and Argus.

Crude oil prices have gradually crept up and now in the US$ 90 range, perhaps vindicating OPEC’s November 2010 forecast of increased global demand this year by more than 1.17 million barrels per day. As a forerunner, prices of thermoplastics (PE, PP, PVC, PET) registered an upward trend from last December with growing market speculation that the base prices of such polymers are poised for further increase this month. Producers of LFRT and short fiber reinforced thermoplastics alike may sport a smile much to the chagrin of end users.

Being forewarned is to forearm and brace ourselves for such price hikes in Q1.


The tailpiece of a recent Bloomberg News column aptly summed up Goldman Sachs‘ forecast of U.S. economy growing at 3.4 % in 2011 (up from an earlier 2% forecast) with a comment that the cost of this growth could be at the expense of increased friction with other countries! The general apathy in America coupled with willful ignorance has resulted in a rubber-band effect in American public opinion with the focus snapping back to domestic concerns on the economy.

While emerging markets are leading the global economic recovery and will continue to do so in 2011, a recent column in Forbes speaks of commodity and consumer – driven economies like Brazil and Chile (read: Latin America)  as potential winners… what with countries like China and India grappling with inflation. If it does happen, it would be a welcome balancing act  on either side of the globe – Asia and Latin America keeping the world economy afloat in their own unique ways!

Fingers crossed and a prayer on everyone’s lips!

Till the next post,


S Sundaram

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