Category Archives: Bio resins

Composites march to the beat of revolutionary concepts in approach to design

Hello again,

Welcome to another post on developments in polymeric composites and interrelated news on the global economy.

As we approach the end of H1 2015, it has obviously been a roller coaster ride thus far.

Dare to predict?


The oil market wears the look of a burst bubble as also base metals, with copper retracting by more than 12%. Precious metals such as platinum have fared no better (much to the glee of glass fiber producers). Oil price swings (a case of politics playing spoilsport?) continue to confound experts and even crystal ball gazing at this juncture would be dismissed by many as a futile exercise. Naysayers continue to have a field day.

Uncertainties aside, it is important for the show to go on. Right?

Road to recovery


In early June, the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) cut its global economic forecast for this year to 3.1%, but says it expects lower oil prices to ensure a gradual recovery even if weak investment remains a worry [International Business Times]. Global GDP is now projected to grow at 3.8% in 2016 with China’s heady GDP expansion rate of recent years tapering to 6.8% in 2015 and 6.7% in 2016 from 7.4% in 2014. Credit Suisse expects the U.S. GDP to grow at 2.2% in 2015. The Japanese economy is expected to grow at 0.7% this year (better than the flat growth of 2014), buoyed by strong foreign demand for its goods [Business Insider]. Cheap oil has had a dramatic effect on European consumer spending in 2015. The combination of savings from cheaper fuel, a more functional financial system, monetary easing and a cheaper euro is expected to keep the region’s economic trajectory on course in H2 2015.

The fact remains that the global economy is on the mend and growth, though tepid, is being observed in most regions. Oil price continues to wreak havoc, but we are slowly getting used to taking it in our stride.

Trade shows – one too many?


The number of global trade shows in composites has witnessed a major jump in recent times. Visitors continue to stream in at most shows that hold relevant technical conference sessions/tutorials in tandem. The quest for knowledge in keeping abreast of the latest developments, remains unabated. Organizations revel in showcasing their latest wares, while extolling the numerous benefits that accrue through use of their raw material(s), machinery, simulation software and/or processing techniques for novel applications backed by sane analysis of the commercial viability through Life Cycle Assessment. One never ceases to be amazed by the plethora of offerings at these trade shows.

For sure, it augurs well for the composites industry at large.

Total rethink in designing


Demand for new cars and light trucks in the U.S. in May was more robust than anticipated. At 1.63 million, total sales was more than the 1.59 million units projected [J.D. Power]. The auto industry’s focus on lightweighting to boost fuel efficiency is nothing new. This has resulted in quite a bit of aerospace technology creeping into products with manufacturers employing a healthy mix of carbon fiber, glass fiber, aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steels. Ford recently showed how carbon fiber body panels enabled creation of “negative space” – open spaces through the body of the 600HP-GT vehicle to enable air to flow through it rather than around it [Design News]. The full carbon fiber driver/passenger cell has aluminum front and rear subframes with structural carbon fiber body panels. A concept car called the Fusion MMLV (multi-material lightweight vehicle) uses numerous carbon fiber and aluminum parts that would normally be made in steel. This includes carbon fiber brake rotors and seat frames, glass fiber epoxy front springs, carbon fiber wheels. Enough weight was taken out that resulted in an engine downsize from 1.6 liters to 1 liter. The focus is obviously not just on weight savings, but a reduction in rotating mass.

When the lightweighting concept extends to revolutionary approaches in basic design, the results can be phenomenal. In fact, this approach, in recent times, has begun to gain ground progressively.

Offshore blowing away onshore


Renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular is growing by leaps and bounds. A record 4.2GW of offshore wind turbines is anticipated to be installed in 2015, per a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. This is double the 2.1 GW installed in 2013, with Germany expected to lead installations in coastal waters with more than 2.3 GW this year, followed by 1 GW in the UK [Bloomberg Business]. Offshore wind power is increasing year-on-year and expected to reach 48GW by 2020, growing at a compound annual rate of 53% and aided, in part, by dipping technology costs. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is now at around $179/MWh – down from $202 in H2 2014, in part due to currency fluctuations. Onshore wind power costs about $85/MWh. Siemens has recently come out with interesting stats. An offshore wind farm with 80 turbines produces 53 million MWh of electricity during its intended 25-year service life. It emits 7 grams CO2/KWh. In comparison, energy from fossil sources burdens the climate with an average of 865 grams/KWh. In other words, a wind farm saves 45 million tons of CO2 during its entire service life. This will result in continued increase in demand for industrial grade carbon fiber and, to a certain extent, glass fiber. Larger blades in offshore wind turbines entail lower weight and, consequently, a preference for carbon fiber, due to the density factor.

Considering the spate of expansions on the anvil by existing carbon fiber producers and new entrants waiting in the wings, there should be no dearth in availability of the reinforcement.

CFRP steps in…and how!


The extensive use of carbon fiber composites in the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350/380 models has prompted identification of more components to replace metals in aircraft applications. A proprietary fusion-core technology features the development of a carbon fiber reinforced PEEK fuel housing that allows for undercuts in injection molding. The end result – a 30% cost saving and 50% weight saving in the production of the complex fuel housings for the global aircraft industry [Plastics Today]. The CFRP composite offers superior fatigue performance and enhanced manufacturing speeds vis-a-vis traditional aluminum for this application and also meets all engineering requirements including stiffness, effective flame, smoke and toxicity performance (FST) and resistance to aggressive chemicals, including jet fuel and hydraulic fluids. Conventional injection molding technology cannot be used for the complex inner geometry of the fuel housings – this necessitated utilizing a near net-shape process for the fusible core that allows for 80% time saving versus machined parts. Secondary treatments for corrosion protection such as anodizing, are eliminated; lead times are reduced by 50%.

Broadened horizonsprecision-1-529519-m

The ability to process pre-impregnated unidirectional (UD) fabrics/tapes made from high performance thermoplastics such as PPS and PEEK to ensure high levels of process control has reportedly resulted in the successful development of a high-temperature contact heating table that can achieve processing temperatures of up to 425°C. UD tapes are placed precisely on a moving table in layers and spot-welded using ultrasound [Plastics Today]. The orientation of the tape and the fibers can be set in variable ways by rotating the table and adjusted optimally to any load. The fabrics are then processed further and consolidated in a two-step heat transfer press process. The contact heating table heats up the fabrics before they are pressed to make laminates with the best quality and reproduciblity. Individual layers are bonded without air pockets and temperature distribution ensures homogeneity [Fraunhofer]. The potential of this process in aerospace and automotive sectors is significant.

Viable option in GFRP


The powertrain system that includes the engine accounts for a large proportion of the weight of an automobile. The recent development of the cylinder block (engine component) in glass fiber reinforced phenolic composite in lieu of traditional aluminum has been encouraging with a weight reduction of 20% and comparable costs. To ensure a robust engine design, metal inserts were used to strengthen wear resistance in areas subject to high thermal and mechanical loads, such as the cylinder liner [Plastics Today]. The geometry of the parts was also modified to ensure that the composite is exposed to as little heat as possible. Sufficient rigidity, resistance to oil, gasoline, glycol & cooling water and good adherence to metal inserts were some of the criteria that enabled zeroing in on  phenolic GFRP with 55% fiber loading. Use of carbon fiber was also a technically feasible, though not an economical option. Test runs on the new engine showed lower running noise, lesser heat radiation to the environment and proven reduction in elimination of numerous finishing operations associated with conventional metal engines.

A total relook at overall component design rather than mere material substitution in recent developments, appears to be the hallmark of new applications in composites in the aerospace and automotive sectors.

Natural gas to the fore


The shale gas revolution in the U.S. has resulted in an abundance of natural gas. Vehicles being powered by natural gas are on the increase. Consequently, the demand for CNG composite tanks is growing and more fueling stations are being commissioned to factor this upsurge. Momentum Fuel Technologies has debuted a CNG fuel system solution for Class 6 to Class 8 trucks that features lightweight glass fiber composite using 3M nanoparticle-enhanced matrix resin technology. The tanks display 6% increase in burst strength, 25% weight reduction and 27% higher weight/volume efficiency compared to tanks made with conventional resin [Plastics Today]. Adoption rates for U.S. Class 8 NG-powered commercial vehicles is poised to grow from 4% in 2014 to 10% in 2018 and 23% in 2020. A five-fold growth in NG vehicles in the next five years is the forecast.

As natural gas is a low-carbon, clean burning fuel, the upside is a significant reduction in hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Bio-plastics: a quantum leap


The focus on green energy, lower VOC and reduced GHG continues at a frenetic pace globally. Replacement of traditional polymer building blocks with bio-based materials is on the rise. According to a 2015 published report, bio-based production capacity is projected to triple from 5.1 million metric tons in 2013 (2% of total polymer production) to 17 million metric tons (4% of total polymer production) in 2020 at a CAGR of almost 20%. Bio-based drop-ins led by bio-PET (from plant-based materials) and new polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PA) will show fastest rates of market growth. Bio-based polyurethanes (PU) are also showing impressive growth. Most investments in new bio-based polymers is expected to take place in Asia because of better access to feedstock (such as sugarcane) and a favorable political framework [Plastics Today]. This is one more stab at the negative environmental effects of using fossil fuels.

Bio-based resins for the composites industry have already been around for several years, with leading resin producers offering a range of “green resins”. The list, no doubt, is growing.

Winning concept


Ever since the Toyota Mirai was launched as the first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car (using CFRP tanks to store the hydrogen), the battle of zero-emissions has raged between EVs and HFCVs. As matters currently stand, EVs need recharging of batteries after 150 -200 kms whereas HFCVs could be driven 300 kms before needing to fill up again. In essence, the range is almost twice with HFCVs. Though the infrastructure to support HFCVs is patchy at present, it can change over time. Recall how the world scoffed at the first-generation Prius in 1997 – the rest is history [BBC News]. Hydrogen is the most abundant available element in the universe [Toyota] – its potential is huge as a clean energy source. The bottom line is that both EVs and HFCVs will use composites to a great extent – that’s what matters in the final analysis.

Both types of vehicles can co-exist with their USPs and are poised to take off in a big way by the end of the decade. Composites will continue to be the ultimate beneficiary.

Per latest stats from BP, the U.S. has dethroned Russia as the world’s largest producer of combined hydrocarbons – oil and natural gas. This is a clear demonstration of the seismic shifts in the world energy landscape emanating from America’s shale fields [Yahoo Finance].

Another instance of uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and that the numero uno status in any sphere is never a given?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram




Innovation and Speed of Commercialization in Composites Sector – is the glass half-full ?

Hello everyone,

Here we go again with another post…….



As we weave our way into the last month of Q2  2014, several factors stand out that merit mention. Per PWC, the Eurozone is on the way to recovery and poised to register growth this year – for the first time in three years. This is substantiated by stock markets posting returns of more than 20% in the past year, while yield on corporate bonds are nearing record lows. The UK economy is also reportedly in good health according to two major business lobby groups – the Confederation of the British Industry (CBI) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). The CBI says growth reached a record high in May. The BCC has also upped its growth rate for 2014 from 2.8% to 3.1%, which is well above the 2.7% forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the Government’s independent fiscal watchdog [BBC]. Though the U.S. economy contracted the first quarter after it began the year on a roller-coaster ride, it is still on track to register a 3% annual growth backed by statistical data on movement of goods (trucking sector), unemployment  rate  and other relevant factors. The dip in Chinese exports has reiterated the need to focus on boosting domestic consumption which is a better-late-than- never scenario.



A key advantage of prefab sandwich panels in composites such as ease of transportation and installation is legion. Building bridges over busy waterways are generally accompanied by delays and disruptions to shipping traffic. In a departure from conventional norm, rather than moving the steel structure into place and building the formwork, engineers building the Uyllander bridge in Amsterdam (Netherlands) turned the process around. The steel structure – steel arch and steel trusses spaced 3.8 meters apart was constructed onshore, after which a lightweight GFRP sandwich panel formwork was installed, also onshore. Lightweight and stiffness were key requirements in the the GFRP design – the deflection in the middle of the panel could not exceed 25mm when concrete was cast (weight of concrete + steel reinforcement was ~800kg/sq met). Another challenge was to provide a supporting edge with a thickness of 15mm so as to limit the supporting thickness at the edges. 72 GFRP sandwich panels were produced by vacuum assisted RTM, complete with integrated holes needed for installing the steel strips to hold the pipes running under the bridge. The panels were installed onshore, after which the bridge was moved into place, the steel rebar was constructed and the concrete deck was cast. A key aspect was to minimize traffic interruptions, which was successfully accomplished [Plastics Today].

Novelty in thinking and execution is a key trait in problem-solving.

Innovations abound when it comes to responding to market needs for lighter/stronger materials with improved performance. The icing on the cake is, undoubtedly, overall cost reduction. A new generation of carbon fiber reinforced polyamide compounds processable by injection molding, to potentially replace structural metal components in automotive, oil and gas and industrial applications hold great promise. The company (Lehvoss NA) claims that the compound has 50% greater tensile strength,15% more stiffness and 90% greater impact strength than traditional carbon fiber reinforced polymers. Further advantages claimed are good tribological properties, electrical conductivity and low co-efficient of thermal expansion [Plastics Today].



Cannon‘s Epoxy Structural Reaction Injection Molding (ESTRIM) is a faster alternative to traditional resin transfer molding of epoxy parts. The company’s processing technology for CFRP parts for the BMW (i3 and i8) that has been supplied to Benteler-SGL Automotive Composites, has a dosing unit with a liquid lay-down distribution method which deposits a liquid ribbon of formulated resin over the carbon fiber reinforcement. The uniform film of resin impregnates the fibers once pressed in the mold. The absence of in-mold flow of reacting resin coming from the mixing head drastically reduces the counter-pressure generated during injection, allowing for use of low-tonnage clamping presses [European Plastics News]. The obvious economics are low investment in molds and clamping tools, lower energy consumption during each cycle, all culminating in lower production costs. The ESTRIM mixing head technology allows fast-reacting formulations to be used with demolding possible after three minutes !

Long glass fiber reinforced PP (in the LFT category) has been employed by automakers as a weight and emission reduction solution for large molded structural parts such as front-end modules (FEM), door modules, instrument panel carriers, tailgates and seat structures. A leading sustainability independent consulting firm has found that a FEM made of PP based LFT had a life cycle greenhouse gas emission (GHG) of 78 kg vs. 149 kg with a polyamide hybrid solution – a 48% reduction. The data also showed that the PP based LFT had a lower life cycle energy footprint of 1,200 megajoule vs. 2,140 mj for one with a polyamide hybrid solution – a 44% reduction. The advantages of PP based LFT on vehicle emission reduction are obvious [Plastics Today].



When it comes to lightweighting in automotive design, the permutations and combinations are endless; depending to some extent, on the end performance requirements of the component in service. Composites continue to make inroads in the metal domain for under-the-hood applications. An interesting, as yet untested development is a thermoformed hose. The technology consists of weaving carbon or glass fibers together into a hose, which is then transferred to a mold along with a thermoplastic such as polypropylene (PP). The mold is subsequently heated to 240°C for three minutes, after which air is pumped into the mold, raising the air pressure in the mold. This causes the reinforcing fibers to be pressed against the hot wall of the mold. The materials come together, following which the part is finished under normal pressure (5-6 bar) used for thermoforming. The finished part could replace different metal brackets under the hood, it is claimed [Plastics Today].



Ever head of biomimicry ? It is all about learning from nature – studying nature’s designs and emulating these to solve human challenges. Typical example – the famed Velcro ! Following the success story of self-healing polymers, nature has once again shown the way for self-healing composites ! The bane of composites damage, as we all know, is delamination. Internal delamination is not only difficult to detect, but well nigh impossible to repair by conventional techniques. Perhaps, this has been the most single limiting factor in greater widespread use of composites, as a small internal crack can lead to irreversible damage. It appears, there is now hope. Researchers at the Beckman Institute’s Autonomous Materials Systems (AMS) Group in Illinois created 3D vascular network patterns of micro channels filled with healing chemistry – that threads through a fiber reinforced composite. When damage occurs, the networks within the material break apart and allow the healing chemistry to mix and polymerize, autonomously healing the material, over multiple cycles. Creating the vascular architecture integrates seamlessly with typical manufacturing processes of polymeric composites, thus rendering it a strong candidate for commercial use. The vessel system is made up of two different micro channel networks, each containing one of the two liquid healing agents (an epoxy resin and hardener). Delamination damage to the composite ruptures the capillary network and triggers the delivery and subsequent polymerization of reactive chemical species. It was found that arranging the vessels in an overlapping herringbone design promoted better mixing of the liquids (enhanced mixing through increased interfacial and overlapping fluid boundary layers) compared to parallel configuration (diffusion is primarily limited to adjacent bands between the delivered heating agents). When a fracture occurs, it ruptures the separate networks of healing agents automatically releasing them into the crack plane – akin to a bleeding cut. As they come in contact with one another in situ, or within the material, they polymerize to essentially form a structural glue in the damage zone. After each healing cycle, it was found that higher loads were required to propagate the crack with the herringbone configuration [Plastics Today].



The shale gas boom has resulted in North American ethylene producers shifting more to natural gas based feedstocks and away from petroleum based naphtha, as reported in our earlier posts. The result has been a sharp reduction in production and availability of propylene. This has resulted in bio-based chemicals attracting serious interest as drop-in replacements for petroleum based commodity chemicals. Epichlorohydrin (which is one of the starting materials for epoxy resin) is now being produced from glycerol (instead of propylene). Likewise, propylene glycol (a key ingredient for unsaturated polyester resins) is now being produced from glycerol. Such paradigm shifts are bound to affect (ease) the raw material availability and price volatility witnessed in the resin market over the years and provide a boost to bio-based chemicals in the long run [Plastics Today].

The Alfa Romeo is set to return to the U.S. this month after nearly two decades. The 4C is a carbon fiber fitted sports car optimized for low weight and agility. It has an one-piece monocoque CFRP chassis weighing just 65 kg. More models are on the way in 2015 [Plastics News].


wind mills (sept 29)

Hitherto, offshore wind turbines are installed in water less than 30 meters deep. The concept of undersea energy storage through the use of giant concrete storage spheres is now being touted by researchers at MIT. The idea is that when offshore turbines are producing more electricity than the grid needs – overnight or on weekends, when demand is slack; power would be used to pump seawater out of the hollow spheres placed at the seafloor beneath the turbines. When extra power is needed, the system would take advantage of hydrostatic pressure, opening up to suck water back into the spheres, with the water passing through a hydropower turbine to generate electricity. Reportedly, one such 25-meter sphere in 400-meter-deep water could store up to 6 mWh of power. To be economically feasible, the system would need to operate in water at least 200 meters deep with cost/mWh dropping until 1,500 meters, before beginning to trend upward. The turbines would float, anchored by the massive concrete spheres that also store energy. Now comes the hard part – preliminary estimates indicate that one such sphere could be built and deployed at a cost of $12 million. This could yield an estimated storage cost of 6 cents/kWh – a level considered viable by the utility industry [Earth Techling]. This is more relevant in Europe where offshore wind power rules the roost. The U.S. though is still grappling with its first major offshore installation.

The good news is that constant efforts are being made technologically and otherwise, to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy and it is yielding positive results. The first step is the willingness to think strategically and then evolve ways to execute the same.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Do Regulatory requirements Foster fast-track innovation, Forge synergistic alliances and Spur rapid growth ?

Hello everyone,

At the outset, I wish all readers in the 100+ countries (that this blog’s readership covers) a Happy and Prosperous 2014!

Most of you would be back after the holidays rejuvenated and determined to tackle another challenging year ahead, albeit with less pain and greater optimism than in 2013.



Taking stock of 2013, the results have started trickling in……

Global manufacturing ended 2013 on a strong note as major exporters like the U.S., Japan and Germany all saw demand pick up; although China’s performance remained modest with diminished exports in December 2013 and a marginal drop in Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). Years of loose monetary policy along with soaring stock markets appear to be bolstering economic confidence – this bodes well for a global economy that has struggled to shake off the effects of financial crisis and recession [Reuters]. By not showing signs of contraction, Europe appears to have turned the corner, while the emerging markets are reportedly faring better. The U.S. economy seems to be on a roll with December’s PMI of 55.0 and the housing market on the road to recovery.



The relentless pursuit of clean green energy remains unabated. Official figures confirm December 2013 was a record breaking month for wind power in the UK with more electricity generated from wind than any other month. A total of 2,841,080 MWh of electricity were generated by wind power for the National Grid – enough to power more than 5.7 million British homes. Overall, wind power supplied 10% of Britain’s total electricity demand for homes, businesses and factories [Clickgreen]. Globally, this market segment continues to be the principal growth driver for glass and carbon fiber composites. The abundance of natural gas in the U.S. is resulting in the retirement of more coal-fired plants in favor of (less expensive) natural gas-fired plants for electricity generation. Per U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal-fired generating capacity is expected to fall from 312 GW in 2012 to 262 GW in 2040. Increased generation with renewable energy is expected to account for 28% of overall growth in electricity generation between 2012 and 2040. Recall the commitment by leading nations at the commencement of this decade of harnessing 20% renewable energy by 2020.

The winds of change are definitely blowing in the right direction.

The cyclical recovery in global auto sales that began in mid-2009 has resulted in broad-based gains in 2013 in every region except Europe. Volumes in Western Europe began stabilizing in the latter half of 2013 and forecast to increase this year for the first time since 2009. Record global car sales is projected for 2014 with a 5% increase (over 2013) triggered by the first synchronized expansion in global purchases since 2005 as a result of rising consumer confidence, low short-term interest rates and strengthening employment growth [Scotia Bank].



Achieving weight reduction and the resulting fuel economy is a perennial challenge. Volvo has unveiled an innovative potential solution to the problem associated with bulky and heavy battery packs by replacing steel body panels with carbon fiber composite panels infused with nano-batteries and super capacitors. The conductive material used around the vehicle to charge and store energy can be recharged via the vehicle’s regenerative braking system or via the grid. When the system and motor requires a charge, the energized panels behave like any traditional battery pack and discharge accordingly. Volvo claims the composite trunk lid, which is stronger than steel, could not only power the vehicle’s 12volt system, but the weight savings alone could increase an EV’s overall range and performance as a result. The switch to CFRP composite of the plenum cross-member under the hood resulted in 50% weight saving and torsionally stronger structure compared to steel. The bottom line….an interesting solution that could not only reduce overall weight, but increase charge capacity relative to a vehicle’s surface area [Gizmag]. Per Volvo, weight savings of 15% or more could be achieved by replacing a vehicle’s traditional body and relevant electrical components with nano-infused carbon fiber panels. When it comes to weight saving the battery pack in Tesla Model S not only adds significant cost  but also weight (around 453 kilograms). With Volvo’s concept, that huge chunk of weight would not only be lighter but spread out evenly over the vehicle’s body. As a result, vehicle handling and performance characteristics would improve as a result of this revised displacement concept.

With fertile imagination….such revolutionary concepts and consequent successful outcomes are a given.



The cure kinetics of a novel heat-resistant epoxy resin based on naphthyl pyromellitic diamide with diamino diphenyl methyl sulfone on carbon fiber reinforced composites has provided interesting insights. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) was used under non-isothermal and isothermal conditions. The former results in highly crosslinked network later in the curing stage. The CFRP composites were found to exhibit a high glass transition temperature, low moisture absorption, adequate flame retardance and especially very low tensile strength loss at high temperatures [Sciencia].

Polyurethanes (PU) continue to make inroads as matrix materials for composites in view of their proven versatility. The effect of soft segment molecular weight and chemical structure on the morphology and final properties of segment thermoplastic PU containing various hard segment contents has been investigated. Vegetable oil based polyesters and corn sugar based chain extenders have been used as renewable resources. Chemical structure and molecular weight of polyols strongly affect the properties of the synthesized TPU. An increase in soft segment molecular weight increases the degree of soft segment crystallinity and microphase separation, thus imparting enhanced mechanical properties and higher thermal stability [Sciencia].



Technological developments abound in meeting Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and EU regulations laid out by the U.S. and European Union respectively on fuel economy (read, miles per gallon) of all vehicles. Gurit‘s Car Body Sheet (CBS) is a unique composite structure for car body panels. The combination of two layers of carbon fiber reinforcement, one above and one below a syntactic resin core, results in stiffness properties similar to those of an I-beam. While CBS panels match the stiffness of typical steel or aluminum body panels, they minimize the required layers of carbon fiber reinforcement, reducing both mass and cost of the component. The final layer of CBS is an in-mold primer layer which enables CBS to far exceed the surface quality of standard composite materials neutralizing fiber print-through and providing an excellent surface for paint. The combined cure ply thickness is 1.8mm and the panels are 80% lighter than steel of the same thickness [Plastics Today]. Nickel tooling, built-in vacuum circuit and thermal fluid circulation enables programmed cure cycle temperature ramps that result in 80-minute cure cycles to produce fully cured dimensionally controlled surface panels.

Which reminds us of the adage “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Can there be a better example than achieving fuel economy through intelligent identification of potential vehicle components, judicious choice of materials and tweaking of processing parameters/techniques, all contributing to weight reduction?



The requirement of fire retardance for mass transit applications needs no overemphasis. Public safety is of paramount importance.  A new halogen-free high performance thermoset resin system is well suited for thermoset composites in mass transit. Sans conventional fire retardant additives such as antimony trioxide or alumina trihydrate, the one-part system features a proprietary intumescent mechanism and provides excellent wet-out, spray characteristics and crack resistance. The resin has lower specific gravity and leads to lighter weight and stronger parts that are easy to fabricate. It is designed for contact molding and spray-up GFRP processes [Plastics News].

Thermoplastic composites are making rapid strides in a range of industries requiring lightweight, high-strength material options along with low cost, automation and short cycle times attainable with injection molding. An all-plastic organic hybrid composite technology involves heating a continuous fiber reinforced sheet blank impregnated with polyamide 6 and then placing it in an injection mold where it is formed into a 3D shape and overmolded with more polyamide 6 (unfilled or glass fiber reinforced). In some cases, the sheet blank is thermoformed separately before being placed in the injection mold. The initial development focus has been on automotive interiors including seating area components, door side impact beams, cross-car beams and front ends [Plastics Technology]. A seat back consisting of woven glass fiber/polyamide sheet overmolded with a specially developed 35% glass fiber reinforced polyamide 6 combines stiffness ,ductility and Class A type finish. The part weighed 20% less than standard seat backs. Other potential thermoplastic candidates include PP, PBT, PES, PEEK and polyamide 66.

A new Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process simplifies production and painting of CFRP automotive parts. Production of a 2mm thick CFRP roof panel with a paintable surface that can go into the paint line with other exterior car parts was recently demonstrated in Europe for a sports car body. A compact mold carrier design has a special seal system in the mold that makes it possible to inject Polyurethane  with vacuum assistance when the mold is slightly opened. Integrated sensors monitor and regulate optimal filling [Plastics News].



The success of fracking and abundance of U.S. shale gas is shaking up the global petrochemicals industry. Using natural gas to make ethylene has meant a switch away from naphtha from which oil-based feedstocks such as propylene, butadiene and benzene are derived. Styrene, in turn is derived from benzene. Will this have a negative impact on vinylester and unsaturated polyester resin prices in the long run? The probability remains high. Continued shift to ethane will lead to an ongoing shortage of higher carbon chemicals such as propylene and butadiene. This environment is also likely to be supportive of renewable chemistry economics. An indirect beneficiary could be the global bioplastics market that could grow at a staggering 40% per year through 2020 according to Morgan Stanley researchers [Plastics Today].



With markets perking, the timing is right for Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) to gain momentum. Companies are flush with cash. Organic growth could well take a backseat in businesses which require heavy capital outlay. The M&A route could be the preferred option in enhancing market share and expanding customer base in a shorter time frame. Toray‘s acquisition of Zoltek (carbon fiber) and Karl Mayer‘s acquisition of Liba (warp knitting & technical textiles machinery) are just the tip of the iceberg.

We are in the cusp of a technological revolution arising out of the shale gas success saga. Being forewarned enables us to be forearmed in seeking alternatives, so that the development cycle pertaining to innovations reaching the marketplace remains unaffected.

Does the industry have the wherewithal to effectively combat the disruptions arising from technological advancements that affect market dynamics caused by a shift away from oil?

The answer is an emphatic YES!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Northward trend in prices and demand….. the 2013 scenario

Hello everyone,

Welcome to another post……..



At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month, participants were informed that the global economy is likely to face fewer headwinds in 2013 (compared to 2012) with prospects of a modest 3.5% GDP growth. Such a forecast from the International Monetary Fund which, in the same breath, described the recovery as fragile and timid, was indeed positive news. Little wonder that the theme of the WEF meet was aptly titled “Resilient Dynamism”. The outlook for emerging markets is higher at 5.5% compared to that for the developed nations at 1.5%. Riding on growing domestic consumption, China is expected to grow at 8%.

More than a faint glimmer of hope ? You bet.



The stock market has obviously been on a tear with a raft of positive economic news in the U.S. driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a five-year high at the end of last week [Wall Street Journal]. Corporate earnings have been stronger than expected, the domestic economy is showing signs of improving and the construction sector is on the resurgence. The recent bullishness has also spread overseas with Japan’s Nikkei Average stringing together 12 consecutive weeks of gains and now at its highest level since April 2010. The contraction of manufacturing in the eurozone slowed down last month amid signs that the worst may be over [BBC News].

Events lending credence to the “what goes down must come up” adage ?

German machine builder Krauss Maffei has delivered machinery to produce the world’s largest long fiber  two-piece roof made of polyurethane by the RIM process for agricultural machinery that includes a long-lasting in-mold painting to boot [Plastics Today]. The superior mechanical properties and premium quality surface finish for ultra-large lightweight components could find applications in the automotive and commercial vehicle industry. Cycle time for the double shuttle mold carrier system can be around 9 to 10 min. for one of the two elements of the roof, with the ability of the upper plate of the top mold to be swiveled out by 90 degrees when the mold carrier is completely opened.

Layer-wise method is a new approach for predicting the tensile strength of discontinuous fiber reinforced composites with arbitrary fiber orientation angles. This technique assumes the discontinuous fiber-reinforced composites are identical to laminates that are composed of UD plies and have the same distribution of fiber angles over the entire laminate. The effect of fiber length on tensile strength and failure mode was studied on discontinuous carbon fiber reinforced polypropylene composites – the simulated results agreed well with those of  experiments [Sciencia]. An analytical model that was evolved based on micro-mechanics now has the capability to correctly evaluate the strength and fracture mode as effectively as the layer-wise method.


wind mills (sept 29)

The jury is out on wind energy stats for 2012. Offshore wind power installations in Europe rose by 33% in 2012: 1,166MW versus 874MW in 2011, according to the European Wind Energy Association. This is expected to increase by another 20% in 2013 as developers build bigger farms in deeper waters. EWEA forecasts grid connections to total 1,400MW this year and 1,900MW in 2014. The U.K. led installations in 2012 with 234 of the 293 new turbines, totalling 854MW [Bloomberg]. A total of 10 European nations now have 1,662 wind turbines connected in 55 wind farms at sea totaling 4,995MW, with the U.K. accounting for 59% followed by Denmark with 18%. The UK. wants to cut the cost of wind from $210 per MWh currently to $161 by 2020 in its quest to install a staggering 18,000MW offshore by the end of the decade [Fast Coexist]. Companies are developing blades 100 meters in length and carbon fiber seems to be the current option. Onshore wind energy in the U.S. led the way in renewable energy sources, with 164 new units totaling 10,689MW in 2012 in new generating capacity [North American Windpower]. Wind pulled ahead of natural gas which installed 8,746 MW of new capacity according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority [Think Progress]. At a tower height of 170 meters, the structure will be 270 meters tall.

Big is beautiful ? Nay, awesome in the offshore wind energy context ! No wonder, carbon fiber producers are rubbing their hands in glee at the potential.



Increase in styrene monomer price resulted in major resin producers announcing price hikes of unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resin in January. Polypropylene prices increased by $0.15/lb in January in North America with further increase likely this month [Plastics Today]. Polycarbonate prices climbed by 3% while nylon declined by the same margin [Plastics News].



Is platinum likely to have the edge over gold in 2013 ? Very likely, as currently both are trading around $1,680/ounce. Rising labor and electricity costs have resulted in closure of several mines in South Africa ( the biggest producer of platinum) leading to supply constraints. The prediction is that platinum will breach the $2,000 mark this year, ahead of gold [CNBC]. Glass fiber producers who are planning to expand existing capacity and/or set up greenfield plants would be well aware of the need to factor this aspect when they lease/purchase the precious metal.



Large diameter pipe demand in the U.S. is expected to rise 6.2% annually through 2016 from the repair and replacement of wastewater infrastructure. Both storm and sanitary sewers will continue to drive the demand for large diameter pipes for water and wastewater, accounting for one half of total demand [Plastics Today]. The need to expand oil and gas transmission lines, especially near shale plays will spur growth, according to a Freedonia Group report. While steel and HDPE remain tied at 31% apiece as the most widely used material; corrugated HDPE is expected to replace concrete pipe in many drainage applications, primarily due to ease of installation & lightweight. HDPE is projected to grow annually at 6.9 % and PVC 5.7%, through 2016. Large diameter pipes are in big demand in Europe and South America as well. Weholite HDPE pipes have a unique profiled-wall structure that enable fabrication of pipes up to 3,500mm diameter. The pipe’s smooth surface enhances flow rates compared to steel or concrete.

A leading German automotive supplier ZF who is already producing automotive brake pedal systems in glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics is currently developing a prototype of a long glass fiber reinforced transverse leaf spring within an axle system. The flexibility inherent within the plastic in the composite leaf spring eliminates the need for metal coil springs, thereby reducing complexity within the axle, whilst simultaneously reducing weight by 12-15% [Plastics News]. The company is also reported to be developing a lightweight suspension strut wheel carrier that would use a hybrid mix of materials, including plastics, which would be half the weight of a traditional steel and aluminum strut.



There is continuing work on recovery of glass fibers from GFRP sheets containing  styrene cross-linked unsaturated polyester resin, calcium carbonate (as filler) and glass fibers. This time around, pyrolysis was carried out in a helium and steam atmosphere to recover glass fibers and valuable organic pyrolysis products. Glass fibers were separated from calcium carbonate and calcium oxide by dissolving calcium salts in hydrochloric acid. Residual organic material was burnt later. Best results were obtained at a pyrolysis temperature of 600C and 700C, resulting in a large liquid fraction rich in styrene, leaving little organic residue on the glass fibers. Degradation of the polymer matrix was incomplete at 500C. At 900C the glass fibers were destroyed in the presence of calcium oxide, leaving calcium silicate as a product [Sciencia].

Would there be a SMC/BMC/DMC consortium in the making, to pool resources to render this a commercial success? Time will tell.

The global thermoset resins market is forecast to reach 95.5 million tons by 2016, primarily supported by the unsaturated polyesters (UP), phenol formaldehyde (PF) and epoxy/polyepoxide resin market segments [Plastixanz]. UP and PF account for 30% of the thermoset resins market. Europe is expected to be the fastest growing region for epoxy/polyepoxides with a CAGR of 12.5% followed by the Americas at 10.2%.



Drop-ins are materials produced from monomer building blocks from biomass feedstocks that can directly replace conventional petroleum-based products. The carbon content of plastics produced on the basis of these biomonomers originates from renewable sources, such as plants or biowaste. So what does this imply ? Potentially, all grades of PE, PP, PVC can currently be made via biobased routes as also polyamides and polyesters [Plastics Today]. The feedstocks used to produce bioplastics currently are from food crops – mainly starch or sugar derived from potato, sugarcane and beetroot. The coming years will see a shift from the so-called first generation feedstocks to second-generation feedstocks such as cellulosics. Cellulosic feedstocks consisting of crop residues, wood residues, yard waste, municipal solid waste & algae sidestep the conflicts in arable land use. They can be converted to sugars by enzymatic hydrolysis and biomass pre-treatment. Cellulosic feedstocks are already being used to produce cellulose acetate and and lignin-based polymers. Non-foodcrop based fermentable sugars will become available for energy, chemicals and polymers as biorefineries perform various process steps required to produce different bioproducts. Where biodegradability and/or compostability used to be the characteristic property of bioplastics, more biopolymers are now being developed that instead are built-to-last. Landfills will no longer be an option.

Mind blowing stuff indeed… basic polymers derived from materials other than oil is becoming a reality ! Conquering the last frontier ?



We all know that GMs Corvette was one of the earliest vehicles to use GFRP body in the 1950s. Almost 60 years later, the 2014 Corvette will come with a CFRP bonnet ( replacing the current SMC version with a weight reduction of 50% ) and roof [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The weight reduction helps to lower the Corvette’s center of gravity, thereby improving performance. The CFRP panels come to the assembly plant ready to be painted as in the case of current SMC panels. This facilitates bringing the carbon fiber on line seamlessly.

Classic case of how technology changes with time and manufacturers embrace the same without shirking…can there be a better example than GM ?

China became home to the world’s longest high speed rail line in December 2012 with the opening of the 2,298 kilometer stretch of metal bisecting the country between Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south [Wall Street Journal, China].China already boasts of several firsts in numerous fields. Hence, no surprises on this one.

And the award goes to ……..


February is a big month for the entertainment industry. The Grammy Awards are due in the second week followed by the Oscars in the last week. As the world awaits the verdict, it is fair to state ….may the best in each genre bag the award.

The weather had been unpredictable for the major part of 2012 and this January, with bitter cold spells, lots of snow and even temperatures well above the freezing mark in some instances. At  the annual Groundhog day late last week; groundhog Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, which signaled the advent of early spring….well before mid-March.

It is quixotic…. while we rely on breakthroughs entrenched in a swathe of hi-tech for scientific advancements on one side, we also turn to folklore to predict the advent of change of season that some meteorologists may find baffling.

In this fast paced world, I guess we need a healthy mix of both to keep the positive thoughts flowing and remain optimistic of the outcome.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Relentless pursuit of Innovation……..antidote to beat the economy blues

Hello all,

As cities in the U.S. battle back to normalcy in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, our hearts reach out to those affected………


Designated by the United Nations as the “International Year for Sustainable Energy for All”; the World Energy Forum was held in Dubai in the Middle East in late October. Despite increasing levels of investment in alternate energy sources and a more diversified global energy mix, fossil fuels continue to account for most of the world’s energy production. Representatives of various nations deliberated on the development of oil, natural gas and coal in the global economy as well as the accompanying environmental obstacles and ways that governments and industries are working to reduce negative externalities [AME Info].

Increased political support and private investment have made natural gas a viable automotive fuel alternative with large growth potential. At an average price per gasoline gallon equivalent in the $1- $2 range, the fuel is plentiful and affordable in the U.S., thanks to the huge success of  fracking technology. It burns more cleanly than gasoline, cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and particulate matter by 95%. Currently, the fuel tank on a CNG vehicle is its most expensive single component. 3M‘s CNG tank solution reportedly combines its proprietary liner advancements, thermoplastic materials and damage resistant films to transform the pressure vessel industry. Using silica nanoparticle-enhanced epoxy resin technology, 3M plans to create CNG tanks that are 10-20% lighter with 10-20% greater capacity at lower cost compared to standard tanks while rendering them more safer and durable [Plastics Today].

The abundance of natural gas at low price has led to a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. When energy costs are affordable, factories can once again hum with greater activity.


In the relentless pursuit of energy efficiency in automobiles, the goal for design engineers is metal replacement. Per industry estimates, a weight reduction as high as 50% can be achieved with plastic-for-metal substitution. Direct replacement of die-cast aluminum in mechanical water pump housings with polypthalamide (PPA), a semi-aromatic polyamide (nylon) is now possible [Design News]. Polyamide 66 reinforced with 50% glass fiber with higher stiffness and heat ageing resistance for continuous use over 3,000hours at 220C has been an effective substitute for metal in the engine compartment. Other advantages claimed are low system costs arising out of lower processing temperature, cycle time reduction, lower energy consumption and ease of welding.

This is just another example of plastics encroaching the domain of metals in “under the hood, close-to-engine components”.

Nanotechnology is progressing by leaps and bounds. Ever come across the application of polymer-based nanocomposites containing epoxy and carbon-based nanoparticles (carbon nanotubes and graphene) as a functional coating for glass fibers ? Recent tests have shown both mechanical and electrical properties of glass fibers are significantly enhanced after nanocomposites coating. Further, when graphene is used as nanoscale filler in nanocomposites, the coating functions as a barrier layer to prevent glass fibers from environmental attacks [Sciencia].

The word “nano” has not only revolutionized  materials technology, but extended its usage to all walks of life. Even Apple could not resist tagging it as a subscript with the iPod !


Beauty and brains are an ideal (and oft desired) combo! In composites parlance, this translates to high mechanical properties and aesthetics (surface finish) not only desirable, but essential in most molded products. Wavelet Texture Analysis (WTA) is a recent technique that has been used to automatically classify the surface finish properties of two FRP construction types (clear resin and gel coat) into three quality grades. Samples were imaged and wavelet multi-scale decomposition was used to create a visual texture representation of the sample, capturing image features at different scales and orientations. Principal component analysis was used to reduce the dimensionality of the texture featured vector, permitting successful classification of the samples using only the first principal component. Feasibility of this approach as the basis for automated non-contact classification of a composite surface finish using image analysis has been validated [Sciencia].


Fiber & resin producers and processors acknowledge the need for faster cycle times in automotive mass production. BASF and SGL are jointly working on  a cost-effective Thermoplastic Resin Transfer Molding (T-RTM) process as well as Reactive Injection Molding (RIM) that permits shorter processing cycles than conventional thermosetting RTM. To achieve good wetting of the carbon fiber and shorter cycle times in T-RTM or RIM, low-viscosity highly reactive caprolactum ( precursor for polyamide) is contemplated in order to obtain optimal bonding of the polyamide to the fiber through suitable fiber surface treatment [Plastics Today].

The key to technological breakthroughs is to start from first principles. Right? History is replete with pathbreaking  success stories of similar innovations that have revolutionized the industry.

Improvements in tensile strength by as much as 500% has been reportedly achieved by laterally cross-linking a polyurethane (PU) co-polymer with an extra MDI – a more rigid polycarbonate diol replacing conventional polytetramethylene glycol as the soft segment. The impact of possible molecular interaction between polycarbonate soft segment and lateral cross-linking results in a structural change. Shape recovery was over 90% [Sciencia].


Materials technology never ceases to amaze us.General Motors (GM) is using a blend of chopped carbon and glass fibers coupled with  proprietary nanoclay technology in a SMC application for the 2013 Corvette. Two blends of 15% by volume of chopped CF with 30% GF as well as inverse ratio in a nano-based resin system were tested. There was a 36% mass savings over traditional SMC for the parts involved that included floor, rear surround and wheel housings. Total weight saving was 15 lbs before addition of any hardware to the components. The shape (more corkscrew than platelet) of the nano clay structures contributed significantly to the strength of the parts [Plastics Today].

While on the subject of the automotive sector, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) recently touted the results of a life-cycle analysis that shows lighter weight plastic auto parts not only save fuel, but the fuel savings outweigh any impact from producing those parts. The ACC’s Plastics Division used two parts already in production – a front support bolster on 2010 Ford‘s Taurus sedan (46% lighter than a plastics & steel bolster) and the running board (51% lighter than a steel counterpart) on GM’s 2008 Chevrolet Trailblazer. While considering the environmental impacts of the bolster and running board at each stage of the product’s life cycle; including energy used during their production, product manufacturing impacts, product use and end-of-life treatment of parts; the study showed that lightweighting the running board would reduce energy use by 2.7 million gallons of gasoline over the vehicle lifespan, while reducing the weight of an all-plastic bolster would reduce energy by 770,000 gallons [Plastics News].

This just goes to prove the multifarious spin-offs of weight reduction in automobiles.


The United Kingdom & South Korea have teamed up on the U.K.-Korea Ocean Energy Technology Co-operation Project in the footsteps of another agreement signed earlier this year between Renewable UK and the Korean Wind Energy Association.While the U.K. is the acknowledged world leader in offshore wind energy capacity  with 1,858 MW online (as of June 2012), it also has 2,359 MW under construction and more than 42,000 MW in the pipeline. South Korea has 2,500MW of offshore windpower under development with plans to build a 100 MW wind farm by 2014, a 400 MW project by 2014 and 2,000 MW development by 2019 [Renewable Energy World].

It is heartening to note that fostering of regional co-operation is enabling propagation of wind energy, with the U.K. sharing its expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the Asian giant.


Proponents of wind energy continue to tout its plus points to counter the perennial naysayers. Gas accounts for 48% of the U.K.’s electricity supply. Of the 372 TW hours of electricity it produces per year, 54% is lost as heat. Coal accounts for 28% producing 297 TWh and loses a higher proportion – 66%. Nuclear accounting for 16% of the energy supply with 162TWh, loses 65% and oil, with 3% of the supply, loses 77%. In contrast, renewable energy that accounts for 4% of the U.K.’s electricity supply producing 14TWh, loses less than 1% [Think Progress].

To industry observers, such debates on the pros and cons are obviously endless.

A German company [EPIC Polymers] is commissioning a new 4,000 Tons/year LFT production line in Q4, 2012 using an innovative impregnation technology with focus on high performance plastics such as polyamide (PA) and polythalamide (PPA). The fibers would include long-glass, carbon and aramid as well as tribologically modified grades and electrically & thermally conductive grades [Plastics Today].


In mid-October, European Bioplastics released its annual market forecast. Worldwide production capacity for bio-plastics is forecast to increase more than five-fold from 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 to 5.8 million tonnes by 2016. Chemically identical bio-based versions of conventional materials derived from renewable building blocks instead of from petrochemical sources, are stated to be enjoying robust growth. Leading the field is partially bio-based PET which already accounts for approximately 40% of global bio-plastics production capacity. Second in place is bio-based PE constituting more than 4% production capacity. The preferred locations for new production sites are South America and Asia with Europe and North America serving as R&D hubs [Plastics Today].

Shale-gas boom in the U.S. (due mainly to the success of fracking) is expected to add enough ethane/propane to expand light olefin derivative production between 2014-16 to the tune of 6-10 billion pounds. This could result in the U.S. being a key supplier of polyethylene (PE) to the rest of the world. Industries in Mexico and Latin America are expected to benefit to a great extent through the availability of plastics for different market segments [Plastics News].

As stated in my June post, PE (at the expense of PP) could be a game changer in the coming years – both in terms of increased applications and, possibly price.


The changes that  can occur in GFRP composites with ageing can affect its application, performance and lifetime. Hygrothermal ageing (accelerated ageing by moisture absorption and temperature change) is a very useful technique to evaluate durability of GFRP in a reasonable time frame. Dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA) is able to detect all changes in the state of molecular motion in polymeric composites, as temperature is scanned. In one such study, pultruded GFRP rebars were  subject to accelerated ageing in an alkaline aqueous environment at 6C for 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 months to evaluate the changes in glass transition temperature. Five different glass transitions at an average temperature range from 11 to 165C were observed at storage modulus, loss modulus and damping factor traces of DMTA. It was observed that the glass transition temperature changed up to a maximum of 6C compared with that of the control sample and believed to be due to moisture absorption by the rebars. No evidence of  degradation of GFRP was observed after 6 months of hygrothermal ageing [Sciencia].


What happens when leading like-minded majors like Coca-Cola, Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble, all with strong R&D resources; join forces to accelerate the development of and use of 100% plant-based PET materials in their products. These five brands have formed the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC) to support new technologies  to evolve today’s material that is partially made from plants to a solution made entirely from plants. Currently Heinz licenses the technology from Coca-Cola (PET beverage bottles made partially from plants) to select ketchup bottles in the U.S. and Canada [Plastics Today].

The resulting synergistic R&D of the five multinational companies spells success from the word go !


Climate and weather patterns are changing natural water patterns. Industrial pollution is making water a scarce commodity. It is therefore not surprising that water has been rightly dubbed the gold  for investors in the 21st century. In terms of consumption, according to Fortune; globally, agriculture accounts for 71%, industry 16% for a total of 87% of all water used. Thanks to innovative superfine filters, 20 % of Singapore’s drinking water comes from processed sewage. While desalination plants are common in the Middle East, one in America is underway [Yahoo Finance]. It is common knowledge that plastics & GFRP are used to a large extent in transportation and treatment of water. Little wonder that the number of pipe manufacturers (be it PVC, HDPE, GFRP)  is always on the rise and this trend, obviously, will continue for several decades.

Water…the elixir of life ?


The Dubai Mall is the largest retail destination in the world and boasts of numerous applications of GFRP running into several hundred meters of skylighting and tonnes of composites. Dubai  is now home to the world’s largest department store dedicated exclusively to shoes ! The new 96,000 square feet store contains 15,000 pairs of shoes (for men and women) across around 250 different brands. The previous record holder was Macy’s 39,000 square feet shoe store in Manhattan, U.S.[Arabian Business].

So much for the luxury market and the fiscal might of petrodollars !

We shall be back with the next post in early January 2013 !

Till then,

Happy holidays !

S. Sundaram



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



Bio-based Polymers & Composites: Dawn of a New Era?

Hello all,

As European leaders are engaged in discussions on how to prevent the Greek crisis contagion from spreading, the world looks for progress in Washington towards a vote to raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit by the August 2 deadline. No one would have ever imagined the current economic imbroglio at the start of the millennium year.

The heat is on in more ways than one.

With oil testing the $100 mark and continuing its roller coaster ride, leading multinationals have already begun charting a course that would make the world less dependent on the black gold. The current buzzwords are bio-polymers, bio-resins and, of course, bio-composites. Of special interest is the Dow-Mitsui partnership announced recently in becoming equal partners in Dow‘s sugarcane operation in Brazil; the JV will produce sugar cane-based ethanol which will then be used to make bio-polymers.


Image courtesy of Paramount Studios

Automakers (Ford, Toyota) are continuing their push into greater use of bio-resins for car parts. Plastics News reports that nylon, polypropylene, polyester and other resins made from natural resources such as sugar cane hold out the promise of a less expensive and stable source of raw material for plastics. Soy and castor-bean foam blends along with polylactic based plastics are used for interior parts in the Prius and other hybrids. The Prius also uses DuPont‘s Sorona bioresin (20-37% resin sourced from renewable plant sugar) for parts on the instrument panel air conditioning outlet.

In early July, KLM became the first airline in the world to operate a commercial flight on “biokerosene” which included renewable jet fuel. A 50/50 blend of conventional and  renewable jet fuel was used in both engines of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft that carried passengers from Amsterdam to Paris. On July 1, ASTM International that sets worldwide technical standards for the airline and other industries gave approval for carriers to mix fuel made from organic waste and non-food plants with kerosene, which is conveniently used to power planes. Airbus estimates, per Bloomberg, that by 2030, plant-derived formulas could make up as much as 30% of the market for aviation fuel.

With composites being used extensively in airplanes coupled with bio-fuels, travelers could be in for a unique flying experience in the near future.

Have you heard of the world’s lightest production two-wheeled electric vehicle? If not, please refer to Plastics & Rubber Weekly. It is an electrically assisted bicycle developed by a British company which used a 60% long glass-fiber reinforced nylon rear suspension unit with the main frame in magnesium. The surface finish was excellent in spite of the high glass content. More developments in LFT (long-fiber reinforced thermoplastics)….. European Plastics News reports a Dutch company having developed polypropylene based LFT (30 % glass content) solar photovoltaic modules to replace standard aluminum frames. Rapid assembly and disassembly, lower installation times and weight reduction are all the advantages that the composite offers for this application.

Ingenuity in design plus a yen for commercially viable applications is what makes composites such a fascinating proposition for numerous applications in a wide spectrum of market sectors.


More exciting news on carbon fiber composites awaits you! A revolutionary carbon-fiber aircraft (Solar Impulse HB-SIA) concluded its European tour in early July, marking a new era in terms of energy saving. The 12 1/2 hour flight was powered by solar energy alone! ” Another classic case of reduced dependence on fossil fuel”, was the statement issued by the European Commission. Thus far, three international flights have been completed in the European campaign. Around-the-world flights are scheduled in 2014.

An extraordinary example of what one can do with stored energy. And, of course, carbon fiber!

With natural gas in the news in a big way, the American government and industry plan to have a strategy for converting fleets to natural gas, including public transit and government fleets, heavy-duty freight fleets that currently rely on diesel, and light-vehicle fleets like taxis that can refuel at a single station. If passed, the NAT GAS Act would provide credits for companies to buy and manufacture natural gas vehicles and build refueling stations. Honda plans to sell its Civic Natural Gas in all 50 states in the U.S. this Fall.

Carbon fiber producers to a greater extent and glass fiber producers to a relatively lesser extent could reap significant benefits due to an increase in natural gas-powered vehicles through a big demand for cylinders for storing the gas.

Is fossil fuel exit more imminent and closer than we predicted? Not so fast…! This may just be the beginning (of the end)?

Engineering plastics demand in Europe grew by 30% in 2010 and poised for double-digit growth this year according to BASF. Excellent prospects have also been forecast for the U.K automotive industry according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) which states that the global shortage of some components caused by the tsunami in Japan has failed to dent the performance of the U.K. automotive sector.

Finally, light at the end of the tunnel ? Apparently so, judging by views of market pundits. Touch wood!


A new EWEA report shows that by 2020, most EU countries would have tripled their wind power capacity reaching a total installed capacity of 230GW, providing 15.7% of EU electricity, depending on demand. 190GW of this would be onshore and 40GW offshore, mainly driven by a strong EU regulatory framework to 2020. China plans to expand its offshore wind power to 5 GW by 2015 and 30 GW by 2020 according to the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association (CREIA).

The winds of change are blowing pretty strongly, particularly offshore wind power; and,that too, across all continents. A global revolution in green energy in the making in a planned , structured manner.


Aging infrastructure is a perennial problem in many countries, especially the U.S. Following observations made by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) a couple of years ago, a collaborative effort made between universities in Europe and the U.S. has resulted in a novel method for the electronic continual monitoring of structures using a sensing skin made of stretchable thermoplastic elastomer mixed with titanium dioxide that is highly sensitive to cracks, with painted patches of black carbon that measure the change in electrical charge of the skin[R&D]. The sensing skin has the advantage of knowing the damage location at a pre-defined level of precision apart from sensing a change in the general performance of the structure.

Essentially, it is extremely heartening news for ascertaining conditions of bridges, dams , schools world over and a shot in the arm for the safety of civil infrastructure as it entails real-time information on structural “health”.

The debate on the American economy can be endless. ”Innovation is as American as apple pie”, as described by Time. There can be no two opinions of the fact that America’s future growth will have to come from industries that create new products and processes. In short, encouraging American innovation and restoring it to its past glory. Two recent reports from the Boston Consulting Group and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) found that, on the basis of innovation capacity (government funding for basic research, education and corporate-tax policies), the U.S. came last out of 40 countries analyzed.

Evidence that is neither startling nor surprising. Such has been the fall in America’s innovative capabilities – it’s forte until 2007.


Being vacation time at the ESSJAY offices, the next post will be published on September 5. Feel free to leave comments on the blog in the meantime, or send over an email or a tweet (contact details below).

We’d love to hear from our readers, and we’d like to thank  readers for our climbing readership numbers across 19 countries: we have DOUBLED over far less than a year’s time.

After Steve Martin’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the last decade’s teen hit American Pie, I’ll now remind you of yet another classic. To quote the famous Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) punchline: I’ll be back !


S. Sundaram
Twitter: @essjaycomposite

Competing with Composites…. Metals to the Fore!

Hello everyone,

This post comes at a time when many would be planning their summer getaway and/or traveling. Judging by the soaring mercury that cut short spring in several parts of North America and Europe, thereby ushering in an early summer, weeks in advance; resorts & beaches would be all set to beckon many holidayers with open arms.

After the holiday-mood opener, readers may castigate me for the damp squib that follows. The most recent announcement by the Bank For International Settlements (BIS) has warned that low interest rates across the globe are a threat to world financial stability [BBC Business News]. It warned that low cost of borrowing had resulted in a credit and property price boom that was fueling inflation, more so in emerging economies. In a CNN News publication, BIS spoke of the need for global economic growth to slow in order to curb inflationary pressure around the world and urging nations to act urgently to close budget deficits.

The global economy requires to dorn a new avatar… it would be awhile even for Merlin’s magic wand to restore the 2007 economic glory. Is not hope a soothing balm that is savored by one and all, for obvious reasons?


Renewable energy continues to be the buzzword of many nations bolstered by GWEC‘s prediction that renewable technologies could supply the world with more energy than it would ever need and, that too, at a highly competitive cost. A column in The Montreal Gazette cited stats from the U.S. Energy Information Authority [EIA] on the cost in $/MWH of different energy sources: conventional coal power ($100.40), natural gas ($83.10), nuclear ($119.00), onshore wind power ($149.30), offshore wind power ($191.30). EIA further states that the ability to produce electricity on demand is 85 % for coal, 87% for natural gas, 90% for nuclear and 34-39 % for wind power. The focus on wind power however remains and, from a composites viewpoint, it implies thousand of tons of glass fiber, carbon fiber and thermosetting resins!

As per Trade Arabia News, the International Energy Agency (IEA) believes that global demand for natural gas is poised to rise by 13.6% between 2010 and 2016, with the bulk of growth coming from rising power generation. Little wonder that the U.S. is pushing for shale rock drilling to tap the vast gas reserves, while Qatar remains the undisputed leader in LNG.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek column on demand for armored cars made for interesting reading. It mentioned that the demand for armor-plated cars is a rage in Venezuela – dubbed as the new murder capital of South America and displacing Columbia in the process. Apparently, the global demand for armored vehicles & ballistic protection is on the rise for different reasons… the bottomline is however protection to human lives and the answer is, inevitably composites [be it aramid, glass, polyethylene fiber based].


Just as we were continuing to rave about the extensive use of composites in the next generation Airbus and Boeing airplanes, comes the news of  leading aluminum producer Alcoa announcing the development of a new aluminum alloy and claiming possibilities of planes being 10% lighter than composite – intensive airplanes [Autopia].

When it comes to lightweight materials, we are probably on the cusp of witnessing games of one upmanship in the future. It definitely goes to show that composites cannot rest on its laurels for prolonged periods. Are carbon fiber and resin producers taking note?

More competition from competing materials… this time from steel. If you think that steel is eternally heavy, think again! A Detroit engineer claims to have recently developed a heat treatment that makes steel 7% stronger than any steel on record – and, that too, in less than 10 seconds. The new steel has tested stronger and more shock – absorbing than most common titanium alloys [R&D]. The new steel may hold the key to make cars and military vehicles stronger, lighter and more fuel-efficient!!

Phew ! – are we about to witness a Materials Revolution in the coming years? It may not be an outlandish thought, prima facie.


Brace for more startling news on the composites front. Styrene has been listed as a “reasonably anticipated” carcinogen in the latest (June 2011) “Report on Carcinogens” following observations in the National Toxicology Program . We are all aware of LSE resins that have been in use for decades by the composites industry. The increasing popularity of bio-based resins should serve as a fillip to the composites industry …especially due to the fact that the bio- based resins are finding increasing commercial applications in automotive, building/construction and other sectors.

The composites industry has always been ahead of competition through its relentless pursuit of technological innovation backed by a strong track record. When one door closes, another opens – a familiar cliche worth remembering at this juncture.


Last week, China announced the successful test run of its new high-speed bullet train topping 350kms/hour as part of its nationwide high-speed network. It outpaced Japan’s newest bullet train March debut of 300kms/hour. This bodes well for both composites and aluminum that would be extensively used in these high-speed trains.

I am reminded of the James Bond movie with a slight twist to the title “Live and let Live” (not Die). Who says that competing materials cannot complement each other successfully?  After all, it is the innovative ingenuity of the designers that come into play when using such combinations of diverse materials of construction. When it comes to lightweight, the stakes are definitely higher.

For carbon fiber producers and processors, there was some news to cheer about. MotoGP bikes could soon be made with a carbon fiber chassis (much to the chagrin of Japanese bike makers) wherein the engine is considered as a stressed member with a carbon swingarm attached to it, as reported by Bikesport News.

Whether it is bikes, cars or bullet trains… speed thrills. The icing on the cake is the exciting synergistic combination of lightweight materials that makes such high speeds attainable, yet safe.


While oil prices and stockmarkets have sent us in a tizzy in recent weeks, how many know that 46% of a barrel of oil is refined into gasoline, another 40% into jet and fuel oil while a paltry 2% becomes petrochemicals (polyethylene, benzene etc) with the rest going to other uses.

After a century of coffee economy, Brazil (as an elite member of BRICS) is benefiting from the right policies, regaining international credibility and more recognition. It survived the financial crisis better than most. It will soon host the both the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup within two years of each other.

Now that’s ambition & recognition and great news for composites usage in the stadia and infrastructure for the mega events.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram
Twitter: @essjaycomposite

Global Trade: Quid Pro Quo or Status Quo?

Hello everyone,

While I was writing this post, the G20 Summit was on in Seoul, South Korea. The world was obviously keenly following (though not with bated breath) the run-up to the summit (the G20 finance ministers had met at the same venue a couple of weeks earlier). With most countries differing in view with that of the U.S. and staunchly opposing any potential currency war, the joint declaration that “uncoordinated policy actions would only lead to worse outcomes,” while stressing the need to “move towards more market-determined exchange rate systems and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies,” succintly summed up the deliberations. No surprises though, in the final analysis: Landed cost of imported products should hence not be significantly impacted in the short term.


From a composites perspective related to aerospace, November apparently may not have begun very well. It is well known that carbon and glass fiber-based composites are used extensively in the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 aircrafts. The temporary grounding of A380s by Qantas and Singapore Airlines and flight tests on the 787 by Boeing running into rough weather may have come as a dampener; more on engine-related  and mechanical issues rather than structural performance aspects related to composites. One hopes that these are minor hiccups and that demand for high performance fibrous reinforcements (glass and carbon) for the aerospace sector will continue to match the high growth projections.

However, elsewhere, there has been good news, in general, for composites:

-Another North American glass fiber supplier (Gibson) recently announced a price increase, effective January 2011. This follows price increases announced last month by PPG Fiber Glass and many leading resin  producers.

-A leading market research firm has forecasted recovery of the boating industry for the next five years, after the horrendous run of the past two years and flat growth in 2010. The demand for recreational boats is expected to register an upswing. [Reinforced Plastics, November 12 News Release]

-Close on the October 2010 announcement that its aramid fiber production lines are back to full capacity, Teijin announced last week, its intention to commission its first production line (in H2, 2011) of High Performance Polyethylene fibers based on Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene — more popularly known by its acronym UHMWPE. When it comes to ballistic protection applications, this is good synergy. For the defense departments of advanced nations, there are now more options for bullet-proof vests and protective armoury (inserts, helmets, shields) — both from a materials as well as a suppliers perspective. Is DSM listening? While engineered yarns with glass fiber are light weight and effective, when it comes to comfort and durability, aramid and polyethylene fibers have a distinctive edge.

Speaking of technological breakthroughs, the world does require more of such innovative alternatives when it comes to protective armour, considering the fact that quest for peace is as elusive as Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)!


In the automotive sector, a late October Bloomberg news column spoke of the U.S. administration issuing a notification that large trucks must cut emissions as much as 20% by 2018 under the first standards proposed for work vehicles. In a publicised statement from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tractor-trailer trucks have to meet the 20% target while heavy-duty pickups and vans must reduce emissions by 10% for gas vehicles and 15% for diesel-powered models. Buses must cut emissions by 10%. By any yardstick, these have been termed historic standards as heavy trucks and buses are the energy hogs of America’s roadways. With the dual objectives of curbing pollution and oil imports, these standards would take effect from 2014 models. Glass and carbon fiber producers would have already started strategizing and making minor detours in their roadmap for the next 5 years while mapping the common final destination: Ability to demonstrate sustained return on capital. In other words, the ability of the fiber producers to generate returns that will allow them to continue to grow and invest.


In our ever changing world, it always makes sense to re-evaluate and redefine time tested norms and fundamentals. While GDP measures a nation’s economic output, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began a forceful case for a new approach to thinking about development as early as 1990 in attempting to focus on the fact that people are the real wealth of a nation.

The Human Development Index (HDI) was developed to create a more human alternative to GDP. HDI essentially measures the well-being of a nation’s citizens, unlike GDP which measures economic output. A report released late last week, explains the formula that is a three-legged stool supported by the classic triad of Health, Income and Education as indicators. Health continues to be measured by life expectancy. But with income, the analysis shifted from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – what a country produces to Gross National Income (GNI) – what a country earns. The most notable change occurred in regards to Education, with the HDI measuring two variables: years of schooling for adult population and expected years of schooling for elementary age children. On the occasion of HDI’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. made it to the fourth spot after Norway, Australia and New Zealand thanks to it’s higher per capita income. Changing trends in the economic analysis of nations? You bet!

Will the composites industry also be looking at additional/alternate ways of boosting usage through innovative cost-benefit analysis techniques vis-a -vis traditional materials and thereby shorten the concept-to-commercialization cycle?

Definitely food for thought!


The new economic paradigm also signifies a shift to focusing on strong domestic demand by nations rather than relying more on exports. Case in point is China, which has already started steering its economy away from exports, and towards domestic consumption. Globalization of trade would still continue as it is a necessity, but perhaps on a lower key for some time to come and not to the detriment of  any nation’s survival.

A case of  Quid pro quo ?

On a lighter vein…


While China took over the mantle from the U.S. earlier this year as the world’s largest car market, did you know that Chinese beer drinkers surpassed the U.S. as top consumers as far back as 2002, and now knock back nearly a quarter of all beer produced in the world? Interesting statistic indeed recently from CNN !

That’s all for now, readers!

Till the next post….


S Sundaram

More on Essjay Composites

S.O.S. (SINK or SWIM) is the new backronym

Hello everyone,

The spate of  pro-U.S.comments that I received on my last post left me flummoxed. Some readers wondered whether I had gone bonkers in daring to project a larger-than-life image of Chinese supremacy two decades down the line. A Forbes magazine column mentions  noted economist Robert Fogel’s prediction that by 2050, China’s economy will account for 40% of the world’s GDP with the U.S.’s share shrinking to a measly 14%. An interesting counter-argument in the same column had the following statement in defense of perennial U.S. supremacy….” If Water is the new oil,China faces a thirsty future, as China’s freshwater reserves(apart from being dangerously polluted) are about one-fifth per capita those of the U.S.(which is more cleaner)”. I am no economist, however, the fact remains that the U.S. quickly needs to return to its glorious past and be in the forefront on innovation and encourage investments, if it is to maintain its economic supremacy.

There is a flurry of activity this week on the composites front with many concurrent Trade Shows-Composites Europe in Essen, Germany; China Expo in Beijing and IFAT show in Munich on “Innovations in Water and Sewage Treatment” (with focus on GRP pipes). These will be followed by the JEC, Asia show in Singapore next month. With a surfeit of Trade Shows not only overlapping but close on the heels of one another, one hopes that it does not result in overkill. Such shows are not only welcome but also a necessity. Perhaps, if the composites fraternity of each country discusses issues on timing and periodicity on a global basis; it would enable professionals to pencil more dates in their diaries, draw more crowds at the respective shows and, thereby generate greater volume of business during the visits.

The winds of change seem to be blowing again, metaphorically, after a lull in 2009. It is heartening to note that more glass fiber producers are obtaining approval of their reinforcements for use in wind turbine blades…with Camelyaf being the most recent (and Jushi not so long ago). This augurs well for the industry and speaks volumes of the technological progress made by producers in upgrading their quality to meet demanding performance requirements. So much for the monopoly enjoyed by the majors till date! The industry needs healthy competition to enable technological innovations to materialize at a faster clip.

Check out the link:

The trend in growing use of bio-composites was once again fortified last week with a leading U.S. thermoplastics compounder launching a new line of products based on wood and flax fiber as an alternative to mineral or glass reinforced polypropylene with potential applications in automotive and consumer markets. Earlier this month, Canada’s first bio-composite bodied electric car (Kestrel) was launched. It uses hemp mats as the reinforcement. The significant feature is the progress being made on all fronts – be it in resins, fibers (glass, carbon, natural based) or processing techniques. Recent announcements relating to the setting up of a National Composites Center (NCC) in Bristol, U.K. (to be operational from 2012) and the commencement of a multi-million dollar International Composites Research Program based in Australia bode well for the future growth of the industry.

With light weight metals such as titanium and magnesium (not to mention the omnipresent aluminum!) continuing to rival composites; the extensive (and increasing) use of CFRP and GFRP in the the new versions of Airbus and Boeing airplanes and latest models of cars/CRVs/trucks, bears ample testimony to the tremendous strides made by fiber/resin producers and composites processors alike in continuing to successfully ward off competition from their metal counterparts.

Which brings us to the title of this post…..the composites industry has adapted itself wonderfully well in swimming to safety against the onslaught from traditional metallic rivals and not allowing itself to sink! The industry is on safe ground for the next two decades with assured progress through innovative technologies equally on composites based on exotic fibers and bio-composites based on natural fibers and resins from renewable sources.

That the logic of Keynesian economics used by developed nations for the stimulus funding (for propping up the economy) is now being questioned is proof enough that the old order does not always work and that it is time to adopt innovative bold measures to stay afloat. The aphorism that there are no atheists in foxholes appears to be gaining credence….not surprisingly though!


Is water the next oil and ethanol the next gasoline? Brazil, for sure, is listening to the latter!

Till the next post,


S Sundaram
Twitter: @essjaycomposite