Monthly Archives: September 2011

Despite Economy Woes, Exciting Trends Ahead for Composites!

Hello again,

The world economy has been in the yo-yo zone awhile; frustrating economists worldwide, since many seem clueless and keep expounding their own pet theories, baffling folks even more. A recent column in Bloomberg Businessweek aptly summed the situation: “Economics isn’t rocket science, but the U.S. economy is a little like a rocket. If it has enough thrust, it can escape the tug of economic gravity – not enough and it might just go into a tailspin”. The dreaded “R” word (read Recession) is gaining credence nowadays with the global economic crisis leading to a “developed economy” recession in the U.S. and Europe. There is even talk of the emerging economies being the knight in shining armor and keeping the global economy afloat, albeit with a scaled-down growth forecast.

Concern about fiscal deterioration continues and any amount of crystal ball gazing is unlikely to predict a clear picture at least till Q2, 2012.

The show however needs to go on. The composites industry continues to keep making progress. ACMA‘s Pultrusion Industry Council (PIC) has developed a new industry document titled “Code of Standard Practice for Fabrication & Installation of Pultruded FRP Structures” which will provide recommendations for construction contract documents as well as procedures and practices for the the fabrication and installation of pultruded FRP structures. One more feather in the cap of ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiative (CGI) program.


Our spirits definitely soared last week when Boeing announced that it has achieved certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency for the new Dreamliner 787 airplanes that authenticates the airplane’s readiness to enter into commercial service per Avionics Intelligence. The first commercial passenger flight of the Dreamliner is scheduled for October 26 this year. It was interesting to read a column in Seattle’s Puget Sound Business Journal which stated that the 787 would never have been completed in its current form without a unique collaboration at the University of Washington Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials in Transport Aircraft Structures. The key innovation that the UW center supported was the way to make compression molded small CFRP parts – a method far cheaper than the regular process of layering long carbon fibers used for components such as the  airframe hull and wing.

A classic example of successful innovation in commercializing a novel concept on extensive use of carbon fiber composites. For a moment, even Apple would pale in comparison, given the order of magnitude!


Gasping in disbelief is a well known cliche. Those who thought that the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the world’s tallest building at 828 meters would be in for a pleasant surprise. The Kingdom Tower at 1000 meters (1 kilometer) would be the world’s tallest tower in five years at a whopping $1.2 billion and part of a $20 billion mega project near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to be built by the Saudi Bin Laden Group, as reported in Gulf Construction.

Jaw dropping awe; you could definitely say so!


Innovative developments in composites continue to abound. A company in the U.K. has developed an all-composite walk-in freezer that meets offshore blast standards. The lightweight composite panels are fixed to structural pultrusions to deliver low thermal conductivity and hence good insulation characteristics. The system reportedly meets all requirements for jet-fire, pool fire and blast protection, whilst simultaneously withstanding wind and wave load acceleration movements under extreme climatic conditions.


In early August, the U.S. administration announced the first fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for work trucks and other heavy duty vehicles. The regulations call for reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions by 2018 of 9% and 23% depending on the type of vehicle. A 20% reduction in heavy vehicle emissions can boost fuel efficiency from the current 6mpg to an average of 8mpg. This announcement comes in the wake of an earlier one in July that unveiled new fuel economy rules for passenger vehicles that would boost fleet-wide average gas mileage to 54.5mpg by 2025 from the current 27.8mpg. The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) has already submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the issues involved in reducing auto weight by up to 40%.

Carbon fibers are poised to be used extensively in automotive applications as evidenced by CF producers forging strategic synergistic alliances with leading auto producers to achieve significant weight reduction in vehicles.

Brace yourselves for more groundbreaking news on wind power. Last week came the announcement of a Japanese breakthrough that will make windpower cheaper than nuclear via the Mother Nature Network. This involves a surprising aerodynamic innovation in wind turbine design called the “wind lens” that could triple the output of a typical wind turbine, making it less costly than nuclear power. “Down, but not out” …that is how one can describe Japan.In spite of a strong yen, battling the aftermath of the earthquake misfortune that prompted it to find an alternative to nuclear power and political uncertainty; the Japanese have few peers when it comes to innovation. The International Clean  Energy Analysis (ICEA) gateway estimates that the U.S. possesses 2.2 million square kms of high wind potential (Class 3-7 winds). By tripling wind energy output,the TOTAL energy needs of the U.S. could be met by just exploiting 20% of available wind resources. For that to happen, the Production Tax Credit has to be extended beyond 2012. In a Presidential year, will that happen? Fingers crossed, as always!

The last week of August also witnessed the installation of the world’s largest offshore wind turbines in the Irish sea that involved 30 turbines, each of  5MW capacity, that were manufactured in Germany and shipped in sections to Belfast as reported in Earth Techling.

Big IS beautiful. Will the Japanese ( who believe in miniature versions of everything) agree or scoff ?


Increasing cost of pigments (titanium dioxide in particular) is driving up gel coat prices with global thermoset resin producers announcing price increases last week. While polypropylene prices remained firm globally in early August, drastic reduction in feedstock price kept the PP market under pressure later on. Polystyrene prices in Europe surged in August in view of the monthly styrene contract price. Crude oil prices continue to be well below the $90 mark and has its own influence on resin prices-be it thermoplastics or thermosets.

I end this post with some more interesting news: Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will become the dominant fuel source for all merchant ships within 40 years as environmental pressures force all owners to use cleaner burning fuel according to Det Norske Veritas. Ships must cut emissions of sulfur oxides-a pollutant said to cause acid rain to 0.5% by 2020 from 4.5% today under rules from the International Maritime Organization. LNG, chilled to 1/600th  of its gaseous size costs $397 compared to bunker fuel oil that costs $475/Ton.

Do such comparisons ring a bell with respect to energy derived from wind power and coal? The bottomline is that we are becoming more aware of green, clean energy and the harmful effects of noxious emissions. The stage has been set for posterity to benefit from today’s decisions having far reaching ramifications. 

Clearly the aerospace, infrastructure (includes wind energy) and automotive sectors would be the main growth drivers for composites in the near future.

It was an awful  August global stockmarket roller coaster. Will it be a scary September? It will be foolhardy to even hazard a guess!

Keep smiling.

Till the next post…


S. Sundaram
Twitter: @essjaycomposite