Monthly Archives: July 2012

Polymeric Composites……benefiting from Bio (resins) Evolution

Hello again,

By winning UEFA Euro 2012, Spain had the last laugh and let it’s soccer skills do the talking. They simply brushed aside their economic woes ( and their opponents on the field) and proved they are the undisputed soccer kings.  Aptly summed up by Bloomberg Businessweek  thus ” Spain played a distinctive brand of soccer known as “tiki-taka” – a mesmerizing skein of quick passes that breaks down opponents’ defenses with a lock picker’s patience and guile”.

Sports, they say, is a great leveler…how true.


Late last week, banks hogged the headlines. The Bank of England turned printing presses back on by deciding to pump 50 billion pounds into the stalled economy [Financial Times]. Almost at the same time, the ECB cut all main interest rates to a record low, while China’s central bank cut interest rates for the second time in two months to bolster an economy widely expected to record it’s sixth successive slide in growth in April-June. In the U.S., there is growing evidence that the political gridlock in Congress has actually done more damage to the economy than realized [CNBC].

Is there a silver lining ? Yes, if one were to go by  the views of Templeton Asset Management, that Europe’s economy will recover and that companies in fast-growing emerging markets would be looking at making acquisitions in the region. The average growth of emerging markets is expected to be around 5% this year [CNBC].


Composites and plastics are being increasingly used across Europe as energy and cost-efficient alternatives for buildings, bridges and structures. In March this year, a pedestrian overpass made of composite lattice structure was erected in Moscow. The decorative spiral lattice made in GFRP was based on multi-axial quasi-isotropic glass fibers and polyester resin with a total weight of 13,689 kgs compared to 38,447 kgs ( if made in metal). The overpass reportedly consisted of  four 33-meter spans integrated into a single unit at a center support with four vertical towers at each extremity containing pedestrian staircases. In Spain, a composite pedestrian bridge was recently made from a resin infusion of carbon fiber with epoxy resin. For the world’s longest stress ribbon bridge; wound, unidirectional solid carbon fiber cables were used as the primary load-bearing supports [European Plastics News].

Lattice structures and geodesic domes in composites… now you know why designers’ minds brook no limit when it comes to conjuring geometric shapes  !


Thermoset composite parts in monorail trains are gaining ground. In partnership with German and U.K. companies, a Malaysian processor has developed GFRP components for an Indian metro rail project. The ceiling was from a phenolic/glass fiber prepeg sandwich construction with PET foam  to meet BS 6853 fire/smoke/toxicity requirements. The vacuum-infused epoxy/glass fiber laminate  resulted in the ceiling weight of 413kg per train carriage – a 53 % weight saving over an aluminum composite panel with tubular steel frame [Plastics Today].

BASF‘s work  on multi-faceted materials for RTM processing in the automotive sector is interesting. The carbon fiber roof module utilizes closed-cell PU foam as the core between CF facings. Apart from good insulation characteristics and high component stiffness, the lightweight roof segment weighs just 2.6kgs. This is 30% lighter than an aluminum and 60% lighter than a steel counterpart [Plastics Today].


Welcome to the world of polyester/urethane hybrid SMC for the transportation, industrial and military market segments. With a notched Izod impact strength of 40-60 ftlb/in., applications include protective barriers in transportation, housings for medical devices and safety helmets with little or no degradation in extreme hot and cold temperatures [Thomas Net News].

A composite alternate to plywood ? 3M has developed  PU foam boards with glass fiber reinforcement providing high strength in marine, transportation and general construction applications with a weight saving claimed to be in the 30-60 % range [Plastics News]. The composite foam board, available in five densities (15-26 lbs/cu ft), reportedly can be easily shaped with tools and secured to substrates with screws and does not degrade over time when exposed to water (plywood’s bane).


Soaring into outer space… a carbon fiber reinforced silicon carbide ceramic composite is on its way to Jupiter on NASA‘s Juno spacecraft. The composite forms an optical bench on the outside of the spacecraft at the end of one of the solar array wings. The CF-SiC composite is non-magnetic with high resistance to wear and fracture and ability to withstand temperature extremes. The manner in which the carbon fibers are reinforced is interesting –  when the hard silicon carbide is stressed, it becomes pseudo-ductile…so it bends instead of breaking [Design News] !

Juno, launched last August, is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2016. This is not a deja vu Star Trek fantasy. It is for real.

Damping characteristics of composites are well known. Tests have shown that with identical resin systems, damping characteristics of CFRP show improvement compared to GFRP. Further, the form of the  fibers also plays a role. Mat has a higher loss factor compared to cloth – the reason being mat has the ability to deform and the composite has higher resin content [Sciencia].


The world’s first all-composite  ferry pontoon has been installed at a beach in Queensland, Australia. The structure is 374 ft long with a deck area of 6,168 sq feet and designed to accommodate five high-speed catamaran ferries during cyclone conditions. The glass fiber and vinyl ester composite pultruded structural sections are similar to rolled hollow steel sections. Composites obviate the need for ongoing maintenance in the harsh marine environment. To ballast the lighweight composite structure and improve its dynamic response characteristics, pre-mixed Earth-Friendly Concrete (EFC) was used. EFC, that uses a geopolymer binder system replaces Portland cement in the concrete, thereby reducing carbon emission by 80-90%. It is made from the chemical activation of blast furnace slag (waste from iron production ) and fly ash ( waste from coal-fired power generation). EFC has better durability, less shrinkage, faster strength gain and higher flexural strength [Design News].

An eco-friendly composite ferry pontoon – fits the description on all fronts !

Polymer blends are not a novelty. The latest in the stable is an acrylonitrile styrene acrylate/polyamide (ASA/PA) blend successfully used as an insert in the center console of Renault‘s forthcoming electric model. The pre-colored material, specifically suited for light-colored interior parts (dashboard components,interior trim) has good flow characteristics, good feel, high sound absorption, enhanced impact strength and excellent chemical resistance [Plastics Today].


HDPE pressure pipes with slow crack growth resistance are finding favor in many applications. Traditional methods for assessing long-term behavior in pressure pipes such as the Full Notch Creep Test (FNCT) take months or even years – the downside is that they are costly and their reliability is uncertain. A new Strain Hardening Test Method (SHTM) developed by SABIC reduces the test time to just a few hours, requiring a simple tensile test at 80C and using under 50 grams of test material. SHTM is based on fundamental theories of crack propagation in terms of basic polymer properties and satisfies pipe installation requirements of Publicly Accessible Standards PAS 1075. Initiatives to adopt SHTM as a standard test method for the pipe industry by test houses in Europe and globally, are underway [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

Technological advances rely a lot on basics of science and engineering. Need further proof ?


Wind power currently provides 2% of global energy and likely to create 10% of worldwide electrical power by 2020. The average size of commercial turbines has grown from 50 ft diameter in 1980 to 500 ft today and approaching 1000ft in the near future. Swiss researchers opine that bigger wind turbines produce greener electricity [United Press International]. Borrowing on the economic concept of progress rates ( if the progress rate is 100%, no learning takes place, hence no cost reduction – logically, the lower the progress rate, the better !!) to calculate global warming potential; the Institute of Environmental Engineering in Zurich looked at resource extraction, production of turbines, disposal as well as learning curve of businesses to adopt new manufacturing processes. It studied the impact per produced KWh versus the total cumulative installation of wind turbines in Europe and found that the environmental impact was reduced as more turbines were installed. The calculated environmental progress rate was 86%, resulting in a reduced global warming potential of 14%. In other words, using more, bigger turbines is 14% better for the environment ! Validation in other regions would require changes in used electricity mix, wind speeds, wind shear, transport distances, raw material production and disposal [Renewable Energy World]. Considering the fact that Europe is way ahead in harnessing wind energy, it may be logical to state that their findings sound credible.

Big IS beautiful AND green. Are CF producers rubbing their hands in glee at the prospects of bigger turbine blades?


Repair of large composite structures is generally considered a hassle. Not anymore, if one were to use the new method of combining robotics and lasers to make repair more consistent and less expensive (as much as 60%). Manual repair techniques involve time-consuming grinding away of damaged structures. Housed at GKN Aerospace‘s composites research center in the U.K., the first prototype robotic machine uses laser technology to remove damaged composite structures on aircraft, while leaving intact the undamaged fibers and resin. As the technique dispenses with applying force or vibration, the structure’s overall strength or integrity is not compromised. After the laser treatment, the damaged area is left clean and ready for repair with a replacement patch, cured in place using localized heating mat. GKN’s German program partner SLCR Lasertechnik specializes in using lasers to selectively remove coatings as well as surface activation of CFRP/GFRP composites and removing paint in both types of composites [Design News].

Reduced downtime, faster turnaround. After seeing Ironman, the movie; robotics in composites repair seems like child’s play !


Average North American prices for several resins such as PE, PP, PVC, PET witnessed a downward trend in June. Declining feedstock costs and lethargic consumer demand were the reasons cited [Plastics News]. Natural gas price continues to be at an all-time low, thanks to the fracking (shale gas) success which has even made the wind energy sector nervous in the U.S. Crude oil price continues to fall and any breach of the $100 mark in the near future, appears bleak .


Are you aware that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Washington to Tokyo in April 2012 across the Pacific Ocean, used biofuel derived from cooking oil? Coupled with the fuel-efficient design of the 787, the biofuel served to lower  CO2 emissions on that flight by 30%. Design efficiencies contributed  20% while  biofuel chipped in with 10% [Design News].

The dream combo of composites and biofuel renders the Dreamliner an aviation marvel. No two opinions on this.

Composites based on carrot waste ? It could be a commercial reality. A cellulosic material extracted from carrot waste can be combined with a variety of resins to create biocomposites with good strength, stiffness, toughness and light weight. A Scottish company, in fact, has demonstrated  the successful application of combining the material with carbon fiber to create a fishing rod – that combines the stiffness of CF with the light weight and improved impact strength of the cellulosic material from carrot waste. The cellulosic content, ranging from 50-90%  can be combined with resins such as epoxy, PU, polyester and is being commercialized in Q4 this year [Plastics News].

If you still intend scoffing at this development, examine the fishing rod and then be your own jury.

Brace yourself for further news…. PU from citrus fruits ! Limonene, a by-product of orange juice extraction has been successfully reacted with carbon dioxide to produce a pourable limodenecarbonate that can be hardened with citric acid amidoamine to form polyurethanes with potential applications in moldings for interior and exterior trim of cars [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Freiburg, Germany worked jointly with auto major Volkswagen on this development.


The quest for identifying alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals is gaining momentum. The Biorenewables Development Center (BDC) – a facility designed to make the U.K. a world leader in green chemistry was opened at the University of York last week [BBC News]. The Center, funded by the Government, aims to help industry make the transition from petroleum-based chemicals to renewable feedstocks.

The International Energy Agency has described shale-gas production as a “complete game changer”. The aviation sector has used biofuel in more than 1,500 commercial flights. Biocomposites and bioresins have already reached various stages of commercialization and are contenders for numerous applications where cost and performance go in tandem. The exotic fibers and resins (carbon /aramid /epoxies /polyurethanes) and the mundane “naturals” ( flax /hemp /corn /sunflower based cooking oils) have to co-exist.

Science & technology show no discrimination when it comes to breakthroughs in the two extremes of the composites spectrum. End users embrace both gracefully and mankind is the ultimate beneficiary. 

With most readers being away on their summer sojourn in August, we will be back with the next post in early September.

Till then,


S. Sundaram