Monthly Archives: February 2011

This Decade: Composites emerge as: MATERIAL OF CHOICE

Hello all,

As much as I would like to commence this post on an optimistic note, an inescapable fact that cannot be brushed aside is that  global food prices have hit dangerous levels (jumping by almost 29% in the past year, to quote a screaming statement from the World Bank) that could contribute to political instability and raise the cost of groceries. If one were to indulge in the luxury of introspection, 2010 was the warmest year globally on record, and, in a way, contributed to weather disruptions and thereby disappointment in crop yield. Russian heat (affecting wheat output) and floods in Australasia wreaked havoc in more ways than one… add export bans by some nations and the cup of woe on spiraling food prices could not have been more full!

Life teaches us to look at the brighter side of things, however. We can ill afford to allow our spirits to be dampened, when there is so much exciting stuff happening in our industry: the field of polymers & composites.


According to figures released by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), global wind power installations increased by 35.8 GW in 2010, bringing total installed wind energy capacity to 194.4GW… a 22.5 % increase on the 158.7 GW installed at the end of 2009. Further, there was more than 3,000 MW of installed offshore wind turbine capacity in ten countries in 2010 – the leader of the pack being U.K. “Transmission” is the new buzzword, with a possible radical transformation of Europe’s electrical transmission system, with renewable energy generated electricity poised to reach the targeted 20% by 2020. The European Commission recently presented its energy infrastructure priorities for the next two decades, which it says are aimed at making networks fit for the 21st century. The question being floated by policy makers is whether Europe requires creation of a supergrid to meet its renewable energy goals? At least the thinking process has begun.

Quick foresight?


Turbulent pricing for benzene feedstock has sent polystyrene prices northward. This is also probably one of the reasons for North American & European resin producers announcing (last week) an increase in unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resin prices, effective March 2011. Feedstock pressures are also impacting regional prices of thermoplastic polyurethane and ultra high molecular weight polyethylene.

The spirit of the composites industry worldwide could not have soared higher when Airbus made public its industry forecast of nearly 26,000 aircrafts in the next 20 years. This prediction is based on growth in passenger traffic, with emerging economies leading the recovery. By 2029, airlines in Asia Pacific are projected to carry 33% of passenger traffic overtaking the U.S (23%) and Europe (23%). With the likes of A380, A350 and Boeing 787 being in demand as the sector moves towards lighter and more fuel efficient airplanes, composites are poised to play a major role in the coming years in the aerospace market segment.

Market research analysts can sharpen their pencils yet again with new projections for carbon and glass fibers and associated resins!

The Architectural Division of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) is working on a draft specification that adheres to the new Construction Specifications Institute format that addresses the language placed in the International Building Code (IBC) for FRP composites. Considering the fact that the IBC code is followed globally, this exercise will facilitate a greater degree of understanding of composites by architects and the civil engineering fraternity worldwide and bodes well for composites use in building & construction. Further good news for composites is the forecast by a leading market research group that, when the housing sector rebounds in the U.S. in the near future, market share for fiberglass entry doors will increase at the expense of wood and steel – reasons cited are that fiberglass doors are less costly, more aesthetically pleasing and more energy efficient than steel doors; whilst simultaneously having a veneer finish that closely resembles traditional wood.


When it comes to Trade Shows and Conferences in Composites, March 2011 is truly global with conferences in Russia, India and Australia, the JEC annual show in Paris and the Corrosion Conference in Texas, U.S. For those globetrotters who are passionate about composites and keen to lap up the latest developments in the field, the coming month would surely whet their appetite.

There is also something to cheer about  on the global economy, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revising its growth forecast from 4.2 % to 4.4 % for 2011 and emerging economies (that account for 40% of global consumption) growing faster than the advanced economies.


A spate of announcements by the U.S. Government in February to shore up infrastructure merits special mention for its positive commitment and huge (latent) potential for composites.  The first was a 50 billion PLUS dollar investment over the next six years in providing 80% of America with access to high-speed rail, thereby revitalizing the nation’s domestic rail manufacturing industry through continued construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

A second announcement spoke of another 50 billion PLUS dollar investment in R&D in offshore wind energy over the next five years… the prime objective being to create 10 GW of capacity by 2020. Close on the heels of this announcement, came news of the world’s largest wind turbine blade testing facility (Wind Technology Testing Center) all set to open its doors at Charleston, South Carolina that could test blades up to 300 feet long. The Center is principally funded (amongst others) by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fiber (glass and carbon) and resin producers alike are doubly excited to hear these announcements. The intent is definitely obvious! The U.S. clearly wants to restore its past glory as an innovative and path-breaking nation. In this connection, a recent CNN column titled “Can the U.S. still compete?” made interesting reading with several points worth pondering about.

For the industry, the bottomline reads… greater use of composites during this decade, and that too for exotic applications.

Can it get any better?

The Grammy Awards last week threw up just a few surprises.

The Oscars are due next week. And the world awaits expectantly.

Till then,

S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite