Category Archives: Carbon Fibers

Composites on sedate growth, albeit global economic headwinds

Hello everyone,

Here we go again with another post, as it is back to business for many after the summer sojourn.

Growth, albeit tepid


The global economy continues to face headwinds midway through 3Q 2016. The Brexit vote caught financial markets by surprise with equity prices declining worldwide in its immediate aftermath. In July, the World Bank downgraded it’s 2016 global growth forecast to 2.4% from 2.9%, based on sluggish growth in advanced economies, stubbornly low commodity prices, weak global trade and diminishing capital flows [The World Bank]. The U.S. GDP growth in 2016 is expected to be around 2.0%. The European Union is projected to have a GDP growth of 1.5% this year. China is forecast to grow at 6.7% while India’s robust expansion is expected to hold steady at 7.6%.

Geopolitics continue to wreak havoc on crude oil prices. High inventory levels have not been balanced by increased demand, thereby leading to continued depressed pricing. Oil pundits and economists alike remain flummoxed by the whipsaw trends.

In this context, I am reminded of the “change is the only constant” oxymoron.

Cool, stronger alternative


Composites continue to storm the metals bastion through technological advancements in materials and processing techniques. Composite cooling fans for large trucks, buses, off-road construction vehicles and mining, oil and gas industries are now a reality, replacing blades hitherto made out of thermoplastics and metal. Engines and their cooling systems are exposed to abrasive materials and are subject to extreme high and low temperatures. A thermoset molding compound with high glass content incorporating a tough resin was successfully developed and tested in the U.S. A key aspect in the development was designing the shape of the fan’s leading edge to get the most air movement, but in an acceptable geometry that could be molded [Plastics News]. The fan used eight blades measuring from 68 to 100 inches in diameter and passed wind tunnel tests.The combination of high strength-weight ratio, coupled with corrosion resistance and ability to be mass produced, enabled composites to be a success for this demanding application [IDI Composites International].

Confluence of pluses


The use of 3M hollow glass microspheres in SMC and other molding compounds is well known. Following successful introduction of polypropylene filled glass microspheres in 2015, an Italian compounder has now introduced polyamide6 grades with the same glass microspheres [Plastics Today]. Available in various configurations, the new grades provide reduction in weight, good strength and shock resistance, shorter cycle times and exceptional dimensional stability of the molded parts. The glass microspheres can be used alone or in combination with chemically bonded glass fiber, which allows for modulation of the material properties, in order to achieve required goals in terms of lightness, mechanical performance and price. This augurs well for use in automotive applications in consideration of the new limits on CO2 emissions set at 95 grams/km starting from 2021.

The nano revolution


Advanced composite materials such as CFRP used in the Boeing and Airbus passenger jets reduce overall weight of the plane by almost 20% vis-a-vis aluminum. While aluminum is known to withstand relatively large impacts before cracking, the layers in composites can break apart due to relatively small impacts. Polyether sulfone (PES) resins are known to be used to impart impact resistance to thermoset epoxy resin-based composite structures. New research has shown that carbon nanotubes can be used to fasten layers of composite materials together. The nanotubes are atom-thin rolls of carbon that are incredibly strong despite their microscopic stature [Plastics Today]. The carbon nanotubes were embedded in a  polymer matrix and pressed between layers of CFRP. Resembling tiny, vertically-aligned stitches, the nanotubes reportedly worked themselves within the crevices of each composite layer, serving as a scaffold to hold the layers together – displaying 30% higher strength (in a tension-bearing test) and withstanding greater forces before breaking apart. Currently, the plies of horizontal carbon fibers in a composite are held by the matrix and strengthened by Z-pinning and 3-D weaving that involve pinning or weaving bundles of carbon fibers through composite layers which ultimately does damage the composite. At 10 nanometers in diameter, carbon nanotubes are nearly a million times smaller than carbon fibers and have 1,000 times more surface area, enabling a better bond with the resin matrix. This development has positive implications for aircraft structural performance and strengthens confidence in CFRP’s damage tolerance.

Flights of fantasy when it comes to composites technology? You could say that!

Persevere to succeed


Ever since carbon fibers found increasing use in aerospace and industrial applications, there is a continuous quest to recycle CFRP composites, considering the high cost of the reinforcement. The most recent method to recycle nearly 100% of the fiber involves soaking the composites in an alcohol solvent that slowly dissolves the epoxy resin. Once dissolved, the carbon fiber and epoxy can be separated and used in new applications [Plastics Today]. This technique was successfully tested with vitrimer epoxies. Vitrimers are derived from thermosets and consist of molecular covalent networks and can flow like viscoelastic liquids at high temperatures. They contain dynamic bonds that can alternate their structure without losing network integrity under certain conditions. Alcohol has small molecules to take part in the network of alternating reactions that effectively dissolve the vitrimer.

Another technique that has potential success to commercially recycle carbon fiber from CFRP composites – expect more in the not so foreseeable future.

A step ahead in the learning curve

CNG tank

When it comes to composites use for CNG storage, manufacturers always come up with technologies that are one up on their earlier developments. Luxfer has launched it’s second generation CFRP cylinders for Alternate Fuel (AF) containment. The cylinders provide a 9% volume increase of CNG in terms of diesel gas equivalent (DGE) and a 15% weight savings compared to their earlier version [NGV Journal]. When compared to conventional competitive hybrid carbon-glass fiber cylinders, the DGE volume improvement reportedly increases to 14% and the weight saving grows to 30%. The latest design features a new polymer liner and patented boss design that provide the highest level of liner performance and gas retention. Feedback from customers in the refuse truck, class-8 heavy-duty truck and medium-duty truck sectors have been positive thus far.

Relentless pursuit

Double decker bus

The world’s first Euro 6 double-deck natural gas-powered bus is undergoing field tests ahead of delivery to the British market later this year. While the CFRP fuel tanks for single-deck buses were placed on the roof of the vehicle, space constraints in the double-deck buses necessitated positioning majority of the CNG tanks in a new compartment behind the upper passenger area. In addition to being quieter than the diesel models, the natural gas bus will (expectedly) produce much lower carbon emissions [NGV Journal].

The UK continues to be in the forefront when it comes to relentlessly pursuing ways and means of reducing carbon footprint.

Versatility prevails


Cycle time reduction is a key aspect that is linked to the fortunes of increased composites usage in automobiles. Epoxy resin producers have successfully developed  fast-curing resins in recent times. Polyurethane (PU) resin producers have not been far behind. The composite front transverse springs for the Mercedes Benz NCV 3 Sprinter uses dry glass fiber textile preforms  and PU resin molded by RTM with benefits of cycle time (compared to epoxy), whilst simultaneously achieving a 65% weight reduction over steel, in addition to superior fatigue resistance and metal insert reduction [Plastics News Europe].

Drill, drill, drill!

669130_power_plant_1 (1)

The success of shale gas production by fracking in the U.S. is legion. It has virtually turned the oil industry supply scenario on its head and the U.S. is been dubbed a swing producer. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO 2016) and Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO 2016) that shows significant increase in shale gas production through 2040. Per the report, shale gas production increased from 10 billion cu ft per day (Bcf/d) in 2010 to 42 Bcf/d in 2015. The report predicts that production will continue to increase to 168 Bcf/d by 2040 accounting for 30% of global natural gas production [Daily Energy Insider]. Six countries comprising the U.S., Canada, China, Argentina, Mexico and Algeria are expected to account for 70% of global shale production by 2040. This naturally begs the question of how much new capacity of propylene plants will be set up via the propane dehydrogenation route to compensate for surplus ethylene (and hence polyethylene) and deficient propylene (and hence polypropylene)? After all, reinforced polypropylene continues to be in great demand for a variety of industrial applications.

Points to ponder and plan for the future.

Chemistry spinoffs


Polybenzoxazine is a new polymer that exhibits some similar properties to polytetrafluoroethylene (popularly known as Teflon). It offers unusual properties that one would not find in other thermosets. The monomer is reportedly synthesized from phenol, formaldehyde and a primary amine. The resin offers some huge benefits such as near-zero volumetric changes or expansion, shrinkage and di-electric constant better than epoxy, very high modulus and a surface similar to Teflon, sans fluorocarbons [Plastics&Rubber Weekly]. The resin has excellent thermal stability and flexural strength, apart from being non-igniting and is considered a good bet for aerospace applications.

A new commercially viable polymer matrix on the horizon? Apparently so.

Space propulsion ahoy!


Despite satellite launch costs falling like ninepins over the years, weight savings have always been welcome with open arms for this application. CFRP composites have been successfully used for satellite components as they enable almost 50% weight saving compared to steel and more than 30% compared to aluminum alloy. Low outgassing cyanate ester thermosets are generally used as the matrix in CFRP composites for satellite components [Plastics Today]. Mitsubishi Electric is doubling its satellite component production in Japan which is expected to be on stream by October 2017. It is likely to use it’s proven proprietary VARTM technology.

The euphoria in the automotive sector at the beginning of the year has waned in this quarter due to a combination of factors – tepid business climate, uncertainty (think oil!), slowing U.S. economy and the Brexit fallout. It was a mixed bag for vehicle auto sales in July. The orders for Boeing’s Dreamliner and Airbus AB350 have not exactly been on fire recently for a variety of reasons – the order books through 2021 and beyond are full though, thanks to the backlog.

Optimism – the elixir

Hope image

The global economy is predicted to perk up in 2017 and take wings from 2018. Remaining optimistic is the elixir of life. After all, what goes down must come up – as has oft been proven.

The composites industry ploughs on, though not a lonely furrow!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites

Technology & design expertise enabling composites scale new frontiers

Hello all,

Welcome to another post……

Fingers crossed


We are midway through the second quarter of 2016.The global economy continues to send mixed signals that basically stem from the rise and fall of crude oil price resembling more of a W-curve. The one thing that is certain in this fuzzy scenario is that not many have a clear idea as to how the oil price range will pan out for the rest of the year and going further into 2017, plus the fact that it is unlikely to breach $100 anytime before 2020. It will be foolhardy to make any predictions beyond the end of this decade. Geopolitics aside, nature has its own uncanny way of influencing oil prices marginally – case in point is the recent wildfire in the oil sands province of Western Canada affecting output of over one million barrels per day.

Growth is back, albeit…

Stay optimistic on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

World trade is down 0.4% this year on a volume basis and by 3.8% in dollar terms [Newsmax]. In early May, the World Bank lowered their 2016 global GDP forecast from 2.9% to 2.5%. The latest JP Morgan-Markit global manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) showed the weakest quarterly performance (1Q 2016) in years. The good news however is that the global economy is slowing down and not contracting. The eurozone has actually experienced growth above its long-term average for the past six quarters – this is forecast to continue over the next two years as Europe stages a measured comeback [Export Development Canada].

The common view is that growth is back, though not seen by many. Above all the gloom and doom on the oil front, hope is the current elixir of the global economy.

Moving on…..

2015 – a record year for wind power


The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016 report was released in end March by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Center for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The report showed that the 2015 renewable energy market was dominated by solar photovoltaics and wind, which together added 118GW in generating capacity – far above the previous record of 94GW in 2014. Wind added 62GW and photovoltaics 56GW [United Nations News Center]. 2015 witnessed a 22% increase in wind power installations over 2014, globally. With around 433GW of cummulative wind power towards the end of last year, this source of renewable energy supplied more new power generation than any other technology in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency [Global Wind Energy Council].

US – offshore wind debut


When it comes to offshore wind farms, Europe is years ahead compared to the rest of the world. Construction of the US’s first offshore wind farm in Rhode Island began in 2015 and is due to be completed by the end of this year [Gizmag]. The wind farm’s 30MW capacity will be met by five 6MW turbines from GE – turbine diameter is in the 150-meter range. Around 125,000MWh of electricity can be produced annually, once the wind farm is commissioned. Great news for carbon fiber and glass fiber producers.

Better late than never when it comes to the US nursing ambitions in offshore wind energy.

Resin chemistry – up to the challenge


The spray-up technique for molding GFRP products using a chopper gun has been prevalent for decades in spite of VOC (volatile organic compounds) issues such as conformance to environmental regulations such as MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Standards laid down by EPA. A recently developed VOC-free polyurea resin offers an affordable, non-toxic solution with a cure time under 60 minutes and drying time less than 30 seconds [Plastics Today]. Spraying is achieved with a plural component spray gun connected to a long heated hose and pump. The structural polyurea components are mixed in the spray gun nozzle during application – hence pre-mixing is dispensed with and there is essentially no waste. The polyurea product is reportedly waterproof while exhibiting superior physical properties such as hardness, high elongation and tensile strength.

Chemistry has been in the forefront in several breakthroughs involving thermosetting resins for composites processing over the years. This trend will continue in the foreseeable future too.

Composites – designer’s delight


Judicious choice of the form of fibrous reinforcement (whether as unidirectional roving, woven or multiaxial fabrics and combinations thereof) is the key to maximizing strength of composites without cost premium – designers will testify to this aspect. Flexibility in design has always been a much touted plus point of composites vis-a-vis metals. A recent example was the solution (by a car manufacturer) to reinforce a battery box molded from DLFT (direct long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic) wherein PP was the thermoplastic matrix. By itself, the DLFT compression molded product was unable to meet the crash test requirement stipulation that a 29kg battery was not allowed to break through the console wall at an impact speed of 50.4km/hour – equivalent to a force of around 45 times that of gravity [Plastics Today]. The solution lay in using a 320x230mm, 0.5mm thick insert consisting of a single-layer fabric containing 47% by volume of continuous glass fiber roving predominantly aligned in the same direction that was fully consolidated, impregnated and embedded in a PP matrix [Bond Laminates]. The original insert based on a consolidated hybrid yarn fabric made of glass and PP fibers could not satisfy the impact requirement of high and low temperatures that necessitated the switch to the new insert with higher strength, stiffness and toughness over a broader temperature range (-30°C to +85°C). The replacement (insert) composite was around 8-9 times more impact resistant at room temperature than a pure DLFT-PP based compression molding compound. The stiffness was also six times greater and portends extended applications to components where a high degree of crash resistance is a key performance requirement.

Another classic, successful example of the permutations and combinations possible with fibrous reinforcements and their forms to result in an optimum design.

CNG – to the fore


The shift to CNG powered vehicles in general and trucks, in particular, is gaining momentum. UPS announced its intention in 2012 to purchase 150 composite-body vehicles as a way to reduce fuel consumption. It is now deepening its commitment to natural gas as a vehicle fuel with new CNG-fueled tractors and 12 new CNG fueling facilities [Fleets and Fuels]. This is in tune with its goal of logging one billion miles with its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet by 2017. The CNG will be stored in four carbon fiber-wrapped composite cylinders [Hexagon] neck-mounted with anti-spin design to eliminate tank rotation that can stress fuel lines.

Leaders walk the talk and UPS is doing exactly that.

Conquering the next frontier


The composites industry is leaving no stone unturned in popularizing the widespread use of carbon fiber through innovative developments in resins and processing techniques. Current-day embryonic R&D work in general, sets the prospects of commercialization several years down the line. The same is the case in the application of metallocene catalysis for isotactic PP (iPP) in-situ to form multiwall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) composites [Plastics Today]. It has been found that 20-nm CNT fibers as well as silica -based glass fibers can immobilize the molecular methylaluminoxane (MAO) component of the metallocene catalyst system on their surfaces, resulting in high molecular weight iPP being polymerized and adsorbed over entire fiber surfaces. It is well known that adsorption has very close connotation to adhesion – in other words, adsorption is the accumulation and adhesion of molecules, ions, atoms. The composites thereby formed in-situ exhibit double the stiffness of unreinforced iPP with a MWCNT loading of just 2-3%. Molded composite parts are more likely to return to their original shapes if impacted (compared to conventional composites) in view of the inherent thermal properties of the iPP. The ability of these composites in absorbing impact energy is 4-5 times better than steel – thereby leading to safer vehicles.

Could this development accelerate further use of CFRP in automotive in the next decade?

Seismic reinforcement – a marvel

pexels-photo-medium (3).jpg

The practice in use of carbon fiber composites for seismic retrofits continues to be in vogue. The former head office building of Komatsu Seiren has been renovated with the world’s first seismic reinforcement that uses a thermoplastic carbon fiber composite as the seismic reinforcing material. It uses carbon fiber as the interlining, while its outer layer is covered with synthetic fiber and inorganic fiber. Finishing is done by impregnation with a thermoplastic resin.The 160-meter long spoolable roll weighs just 12kg (a metal wire with the same degree of strength is five time heavier). Unlike rigid rods that require drilling for installation, the thermoplastic carbon fiber composite is flexible and is secured using screws and an adhesive [Gizmodo]. It essentially works in the same way as the traditional brace-and-bolt; but, instead of anchoring the building walls to its foundation, it tethers the roof of the structure to the ground. In the event of an earthquake, the entire building moves together. Komatsu Seiren used the carbon fiber composite as an architectural element – the strands drape off the side of the building like a harp and are then attached to the building’s frame below the ground.

The Japanese have yet again proved their conceptualization and design prowess through this development!

Natural gas products such as CNG and LNG contain less carbon than any other fossil fuel. Natural gas vehicles produce at least 13 to 21% fewer GHG emissions than comparable gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles [The Motley Fool]. Variations of methane-based fuels are now in the offing. A new form of renewable natural gas that is 90% cheaper than conventional fuels has been produced on a mass scale through a process that collects methane gas from farms and landfills, purifying the gas of impurities and then distributing it through pipelines. GHG emissions reduction ranges from 50 to 125% depending on the source of renewable natural gas (biogas). UPS is reportedly one of the users of the renewable natural gas.

Composites could be the ultimate beneficiary as the material of construction for storage tanks for the vehicles using renewable natural gas.

The breakthroughs continue unabated, though not at breakneck speed; but at a pace that allows the composites industry to throw the gauntlet to competing traditional materials for commercial applications. After all, when it comes to material substitution, composites still have a single digit penetration level overall – but it is growing for sure!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites


Optimism is the watchword

Hello everyone,

March, the month that heralds the end of 1Q each year has been a mixed bag of sorts thus far – leaning more to the positive side and ushering in a greater sense of optimism. Crude oil, iron ore, copper and precious metals appeared to be staging a comeback with prices heading northward – baffling many economists, in the process.

High five time? 


Is it a mirage? Apparently not, except for crude oil where the sudden spurt (as we speak) seems to be riding more on sentiment rather than stark supply-demand stats. That the world is awash with oil cannot be wished away. Goldman Sachs‘ views on oil prices backed by logical reasoning, says it all.



At the other end of the spectrum, the latest (March release) Markit-JP Morgan global manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) fell to 50 in February, hitting a fresh 39-month low in the process [Business Insider]. At the neutral level of 50, activity levels neither expanded nor contracted compared to a month earlier. Growth across developed markets reportedly slowed to a 33-month low. If global manufacturing is to avoid falling back into contraction, exports and international trade must witness an increase in the coming months.

Is this the bane of geopolitics? Which country is the last man standing in the oil price war? Any sane guesses?

The show must go on however…..

Endless possibilities


The initiatives taken by Boeing for recycling carbon fiber are well known. It is now supporting research at the Washington Storm Water Center on the potential use of recycled carbon fiber composites to strengthen permeable pavement – a porous paving material that can mitigate pollution from stormwater runoff. Permeable pavement is currently used on parking lots and side roads. However, it is considered too soft for use on more heavily-traveled streets and highways.The proposed research project will examine if the recycled carbon fiber composite can effectively strengthen the permeable pavement. Early test results are reportedly promising. It appears that water coming through the porous asphalt with carbon fiber is not toxic to aquatic life (as the chemicals are captured by the carbon fiber), whereas absence of the reinforcement allows toxic chemicals to permeate through the asphalt.

Blowing strong as ever


2015 was a watershed year for renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular. Records fell by the wayside. Per European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), 13GW of new wind capacity was added to the grid last year. Wind energy now provides a total of 142GW of capacity in Europe [Business Green]. The European wind industry accounted for 44% of all new power installations in 2015. Almost 50% of the new installed wind capacity in 2015 in Europe was in Germany (around 6GW). In the U.S., developers installed 16GW of clean energy in 2015. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has released information that around 8.6GW of new wind capacity was added in 2015 [SeeNews Renewables]. This represents a whopping 73% jump in investments in new U.S. projects last year.

Turbine blade manufacturers were probably laughing all the way to the bank – such was the intensity in 2015. In the process, glass and carbon fiber manufacturers also benefited immensely.

“Move gas, not steel”

CNG tank

The use of composites, chiefly CFRP  as a viable material of construction for CNG (compressed natural gas) cylinders/pressure vessels is in vogue. There is now a school of thought that CNG may be a  more viable option for powering locomotives than LNG (liquefied natural gas) including capex and ongoing costs of compression versus liquefaction. Reportedly, CNG costs 30 to 50 cents less per DGE (diesel gallon equivalent) than LNG [HHP Insight]. Further it takes 2.4 times more energy to liquify natural gas than it does to compress it, according to studies that have been conducted. That CNG facilities are easier to maintain than LNG is an added advantage. Railroads stand to save around 74% more through use of CNG instead of diesel than they would using LNG. In spite of LNG’s energy density allowing for greater range, CNG is equally competitive through increase in range (over diesel locomotives) by 50% or even two-fold. The “move gas, not steel” slogan is gaining credence through companies detailing designs for LNG tenders using all-composite lightweight CNG fuel cylinders developed for over-the-road tube trailers. The tenders are scalable for capacities up to 10,000DGEs (Hexagon).

A revolution in the making ? You could say that!

Time is the essence


Curing of thermoset resins by cross-linking is well known. When cross-linked, thermoplastics are also turned into thermosets. Case in point is the cross-linking of polyethylene and polyamide in the pipe and automotive sectors respectively. The degree of cross-linking and curing is generally determined by wet chemical analysis – a method relying on chemical reactions between the material being analyzed and a reagent that is added (to the material). The main drawback to this method is the duration required – in excess of 8 hours before a quantitative result is obtained, not to mention the elaborate sample preparation involved [Plastics Today]. A German plastics research institute is exploring the use of single-sided nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) that is significantly faster and also allows for inline process control. NMR is an advanced non-destructive testing (NDT) technique that generates info about the internal structure of a sample.The pros and cons of this NDT technique are being evaluated over a broad range of cross-linked and cured material systems.

Collaborate to succeed


Innovative polycarbonate composites reinforced with glass wool could be a commercial reality in the near future for automotive, information technology and electronics applications. Covestro and Tokyo-based Nanodax have recently signed an agreement on joint development work in this area. The Nanodax technology that allows glass wool as a reinforcing filler for plastics, features lower diameter fibers that are more flexible compared to conventional glass fibers [Chemicals-Technology]. Advantages in surface appearance and material processing aside, the optimized injection molding process is also expected to result in cost reduction for customers.

Yet another pathbreaking development is in the works that has success written all over, considering the fact that both companies are leaders in their respective fields.

Composites – the ultimate beneficiary


Battery-electric buses and CNG buses are rapidly gaining ascendancy globally-more so in the U.S. Both types of buses use composites to a great extent. In a new report published by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the battery-electric buses were found to be four times more fuel-efficient than comparable CNG buses. Results from on-road tests showed that the battery-electric buses demonstrated average efficiency of 2.15kWh/mile, which translates to about 17.48 per DGE. The CNG buses, in comparison, had an average fuel economy of just 4.51DGE [Busworld]. The battery-electric buses were also found to be more reliable than their CNG counterparts – logging 133,000 miles between road calls (MBRC), while the CNG buses had an MBRC of about 45,000.

Interesting and revealing stats for sure!

Market dynamics at play


The phenomenal success of fracking in the U.S. has resulted in an abundance of natural gas availability. The resulting impact on market dynamics of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) has been discussed at length in several of my earlier blog posts way back in 2014. The use of lighter, less expensive feedstock (natural gas) in lieu of relatively more expensive naphtha is resulting in PE becoming more affordable and available and PP becoming scarcer and more expensive (as fewer pounds of propylene are produced from natural gas feeds). This is also reflected in recent price movements in PP [Plastics News]. Dehydrogenation of propane  to make propylene is the main recourse to ensure availability of PP at reasonable price. In view of significant use of PP composites in the automotive sector, processors may have to brace themselves for market volatility.

Reinventing chemistry…to succeed


In the quest for reduction of cycle time to enable greater use of CFRP for automotive lightweighting, the onus has squarely been on resin producers, for starters, to develop fast curing resins. Parts production with autoclave quality in less than a minute is now possible by combining a new 30-second cure epoxy resin with the novel Dynamic Fluid Compression Molding (DFCM) technique. Huntsman claims that one-minute cycle times for structural components can be achieved without further post-curing with its new resin system that exhibits very fast demolding, enabling drastic reduction in cure time. The high elongation at break of the resin is a perfect fit for impact resistant composite part production [Plastics Engineering]. The circle is complete with the DFCM process yielding parts with reduced void content and fiber volume content of up to 65%. Other advantages are reduced equipment investment as it is a low pressure process, reduced waste and simple processing of heavy tow industrial fabrics.

The inroads being made by CFRP in automotive lightweighting owe a lot to several leading resin producers who have risen admirably to the challenge of modifying resin chemistry to result in fast curing resins.

As we approach the end of 1Q2016, there is a possibility that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) may further slash its January forecast of 3.4% global growth this year. Economic trends appear to be coming to full boil.

Are we in for an emotional roller coaster in the coming quarter? Fingers crossed on this.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram







Composites on a high, driven primarily by revving up of global automotive production & sales

Hello all,

Here we go again with another post…..

Dreams die first ?


The global economy appears to be in the recovery mode if one were to go by sentiment alone – though the extent of positivity tends to swing to extremes depending on the continent. The signals are definitely mixed. But hey, one needs to add a dash of optimism at times and hope for the best. Oil prices continue to wreak havoc, with the knowledgeable ones who wear their hearts in their sleeves, predicting a further dip to the $35-40 range in the next three months. If there is certainty, it is the fact that the Goldilocks territory for the oil sector is a thing of the past – at least till 2020. With a forecast of $55-60 in 2016; oil hitting the sweet spot on price anytime in the near future can be ruled out, per industry biggies and market analysts.

The present glut is for real, even without factoring production from Libya and Iran entering the market.

The World Steel Association forecasts that global steel demand will decrease by 1.7% in 2015, before growing by 0.7% in 2016. China’s steel demand has waned at an unprecedented speed of 3.5% this year and a projected 2% in 2016 following the slowing of the nation’s economic growth [CNBC]. Steel prices have fallen sharply this year and the industry is in dire straits. The euro zone’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for October was 52.3 which was just above the threshold level of 50.0 that separates growth from contraction. PMI in the U.S. came in at 54.1, up from 53.1 in September. Japan’s PMI came in at 52.4, up from 51.0 in September.

A silver lining in the cloud for major economies ? You could say that without the proverbial grain of salt!

Lowering cycle time


Suitability for high volume manufacturing is a key prerequisite for composites to make greater inroads in the automotive sector. The pursuit in developing fast curing resins by producers, to result in shorter fabrication cycle times has been relentless. The upside of such developments is the simultaneous tweaking of technology to result in improved processing. A recent success story has been the production of chassis components for a Zenos sports car using carbon fiber and an isocyanate-based resin system for the honeycomb sandwich panels. The technology is reportedly based on proprietary structures that blend carbon fiber and other materials of varying densities [Plastics Today]. The end composite is 15-20% lighter requiring less resin and carbon fiber (CF) with significantly less material waste. The chassis components include front and rear bulkheads, body sides. floorpan and the cantrail.

Lamborghini is synonymous with luxury sports cars and, of course, carbon fiber composites (CFRP). It was one of the first adopters of CFRP in the 1980s and a die-hard autoclave-cured thermoset based composites enthusiast. Not any more, though. Lamborghini is now focusing on lower cost technologies in its latest models using chopped carbon fiber reinforced SMC for both body-in-white (BIW) and aesthetic parts as also RTM processing for its vehicles [Plastics Today].

The emergence of carbon fiber-based SMC in automotive applications has been gaining ground since 2014. Key takeaways are lower molded component cost and short cycle times (depending on component thickness). Recall how glass fiber-based SMC became a runaway success in the automotive industry in the 1980s by riding on its fast cycle time.

Focus on recycling


Considering the high cost of carbon fiber and CFRP, efforts on recycling technologies continue unabated. Composites Recycling Technology Center has been set up in Washington to develop new products from uncured carbon fiber composite prepreg. More than 2 million lbs of CF prepreg are disposed off as landfill annually in the State [Plastics News]. The main sources of uncured CF prepreg include Boeing, Toray, Zodiac Aerospace and Janicki Industries. The recycled material will not be used for aerospace structural components. It will instead be used for tennis racquets, sports and recreational goods.

The quest to recycle composites and plastics is perennial.

PUR systems gaining ground


In spite of gasoline prices tanking (thanks to crude oil glut), the lightweighting challenge continues in the automotive industry. Polyurethane (PUR) resins are making advances by leaps and bounds as a viable matrix option in composites. Covestro has come out with a new PUR system for CFRP structural components that has three times the energy absorption potential of comparable resins, thereby providing a high level of occupant safety if a collision does occur [Plastics Today]. CFRP parts were produced by the HP-RTM process with a fiber content (fabrics with oriented CF) of around 54% by volume. The low-viscosity PUR ensures rapid filling of mold and quick cure to result in cycle times of only a few minutes.

Another arrow in the CFRP-HP-RTM quiver? Apparently so.

Bigger & blowing strong

wind mills (sept 29)

News on large offshore wind farms in Europe have been making waves very recently. The world’s largest offshore wind farm across the Irish Sea is expected to be completed in 2018. It will generate 660MW of power from 87 wind turbines and provide electricity to 12.5 million Europeans [Christian Science Monitor]. The individual turbine capacity will be a combo of 7MW (47 turbines from Siemens) and 8MW (40 turbines from Vestas). The second largest UK offshore wind project announced last week is a 336MW wind farm off the east coast of England to be built by RWE AG and three other partners. Siemens will provide 56 turbines with unit capacity of 6MW [Bloomberg Business]. The first working day of November carried news of the first floating wind farm in the UK to be operational in 2017. It consists of five floating 6MW turbines attached to the seabed by a three-point mooring spread and anchoring system which will then be connected to an array of cables and an export cable finally transporting the produced energy from the wind farm to the shore [Inverse]. Carbon fiber to a significant extent and possibly glass/carbon hybrids would figure prominently in the blade construction depending on the manufacturer’s design.

In spite of Britain’s recent subsidy cuts to renewable energy, offshore wind has apparently been let off the hook.

Potential breakthrough ?


Efforts to find a commercially viable alternate precursor to polyacrylonitrile (PAN) was been work-in-progress for the past few years in both the U.S. and Europe. The European Union (EU) constituted a consortium of 13 partners in 2013 to work on a polyethylene-based (PE) carbon fiber precursor. Test production has reportedly commenced at the pilot plant facility in Germany and is expected to run through 2017 -this will then transition to the industrial phase with a 250 tonnes/year plant in 2018 followed by the commercial phase in 2020 through a 1,000 tonnes/year production plant [Plastics Today]. The project envisages a 29% reduction in carbon fiber cost by 2018.

With all forecasts pointing to a quantum jump in use of CFRP composites in automotive in the next decade, the timing on development and commercialization of a PE-based precursor could not have been opportune.

In September, ISO published ISO 19095 – a new series of Standards that present guidelines for evaluating the adhesion interface performance of plastics-metal assemblies. The methods set out in this Standard are intended to ensure that the integrity of the joint is realized through the interface. The adhesion interface performance is tested on tensile strength, shear strength, peel strength, bending strength, impact strength and sealing properties [Plastics Today].

Best of both worlds


The use of structural adhesives is an important link in the lightweighting chain for the automotive and aerospace industries. The extent of adhesives used in a car is poised to register a 35% increase from current levels of around 15 kg per vehicle. Technological advances in structural adhesives, especially hybrids have gained momentum in recent years. The focus has been on developing adhesives that can cure rapidly and attain handling strengths fast enough to enable the bonded components to be load-bearing and also withstand stresses. While one-part cyanoacrylate adhesives are well known for their rapid cure, the bonded joints lack the ability to bear heavy loads and suffer from inability to provide high peel strength and shear – key requirements of adhesives in general, more so in the structural category [Design News]. Epoxies are good structural adhesives in view of their polar nature – but require long fixture times ranging from 15 to 120 minutes. A cyanoacrylate-epoxy hybrid (with a cationic catalyst for the former) introduced by Henkel is a two-part formulation mixed in a 1:1 ratio. The cationic catalyst initiates cure of the epoxy (which is cationic curable) and the cyanoacrylate cures on exposure to ambient moisture. Room temperature curing results in a 3 to 5-minute fixture time. This hybrid adhesive is the best of both worlds – fast fixture time and substrate versatility of the cyanoacrylate with the inherent advantages of structural epoxy – high bond strengths and ability to fill gaps.

Lends credence to the philosophy of combining two materials with differing chemistries to provide industrial solutions in bonding technology.

Drones – growing global market



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The market for military drones is expected to almost double and hit $10 billion by 2024. The global defense and security market for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is expected to expand at 5.5% annually through 2020 [Agence France-Presse]. Operators are moving to expand their missions beyond visual surveillance and reconnaissance and are introducing sophisticated intelligence and electronic warfare systems, as well as a wider range of munitions. As technology advances, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) are likely to be pressed into service, featuring stealthy characteristics and advanced payloads and weaponry and operate alongside manned aircraft, possibly replacing them eventually. Lightweight advanced composites will be the direct beneficiary as they are essential in increasing UAV flight time. Reinforcements would primarily be glass fiber and carbon fiber, especially the latter.

Thanks (??) to geopolitical turmoil, composites are poised for great growth in the UAV sector. Aah…if only world peace were a reality!

Perhaps the news that made major headlines since my last post was on auto majors venturing into Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Hydrogen powered Fuel Cell vehicles (FCVs), low gasoline prices not withstanding. Despite many pooh-poohing the hydrogen FCV concept as Utopian and cost prohibitive to be commercially viable, FCVs (and EVs) are the future (read next decade) when costs are bound to drop through technology breakthroughs and planned infrastructure (more refueling stations). The collaborative efforts in Japan and the creation of consortiums in Europe from diversified groups have begun in right earnest and the positive end results are just a matter of time. Recall how wind energy went through a similar cycle in the initial stages and how costs have dropped dramatically the past year. Patience is definitely a virtue – more so when it relates to technology breakthroughs.

Whilst both EVs and FCVs use composites, the more extensive use of CFRP in the latter (including the hydrogen storage tanks) makes it a wee bit more exciting!

Our next post will be published in January 2016.

Till then,


S. Sundaram



Composites growth in tandem with global GDP – albeit a touch aided by lower energy costs

Hello everyone,

As we head into the final month of Q3 2015, the stock market is agog with frequent mention of the “September swoon”. Crude oil has been trending parabolically and the world is preparing for oil prices to be “lower for longer”.

Agony and ecstasy


Economic turmoil has roiled the world and the downturn in China has lent credence to the “if China sneezes, the world catches a cold” syndrome. The battle for oil supremacy continues – though there are no real winners when it comes to the double dip in oil prices as it hurts the economy of all oil producing nations alike, albeit in different degrees. The supply glut is expected to persist through 2016 if one were to go by the statements of industrialized nations and oil majors. Globally, the trend is veering towards a command-and-control economy.

Northward growth


Per International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy is expected to expand by 3.3% this year compared to 3.4% in 2014. The U.S. is forecast to grow by 2.5%, up from 2.4% in 2014; the eurozone by 1.5%, up from 0.8% in 2014; China by 6.5%, down from 7.4% in 2014 [BBC News].

Live-and-let-live motto


Oil price swings did not act as a deterrent to automobile sales in the first half of 2015. Car sales in Western Europe accelerated to an 8% y/y increase. Passenger vehicle sales in North America were almost on a tear and advanced by 5% y/y through July, with full-year volumes likely to surpass 20 million units for the first time on record [Scotia Bank]. Though gasoline prices have not proportionately followed that of crude oil, the focus on lightweighting continues to be a relentless pursuit for the automotive industry. Unsurprisingly, the steel and aluminum industry announced new stronger and lighter grades of the respective metals in August. Novelis says it has developed a new grade of weight-saving aluminum sheet designed to replace steel in bumpers, doors and other safety-critical areas of vehicle bodies and which is 2-3 times stronger than the grade currently in high-volume production [Automotive News]. Steel makers’ collaborating with automakers is at an all-time high. The latest ultra-high strength steel to develop lightweight vehicles is more formable and saves the cost of converting factories from spot welding to riveting and bonding. It is a live-and-let-live approach of using a judicious combination of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber by automakers. Case in point is the next version of the BMW 7-series sports sedan and the Audi R8 sports car that use a combination of all three materials.

Constant innovation

VW Volkswagen Lightweight car

The versatility of polyurethane (PU) foam cores in sandwich construction is well known and a proven concept. Mass production of the roof module of a car has been achieved using honeycomb sandwich structure with Class-A film. It features a paper honeycomb and two surrounding glass fiber mats which are sprayed in an impregnation process with a low density, thermally activated PU foam (from BASF) and pressed together with a solid-colored Class-A film [Plastics Today]. It was possible to produce a roof module that was 30% lighter than its predecessor, in a single operation, while retaining the same strength and flexural rigidity. The process displayed uniform wetting of the glass fiber mats without any drip, resulting in good adhesion. Once the semi-finished product was impregnated, it was pressed into shape in a heated mold along with the Class-A film. The PU system foams up slightly at the edge of the sandwich and creates a solid material composite between film, reinforcing glass fiber mats and the paper honeycomb core. There was flexibility in adjusting the PU reactivity to achieve longer spray time of 120 seconds coupled with short demolding times of 60 seconds. Unlike conventional composite parts where the individual layers are glued together in a multistage process, the current process involves a single manufacturing step.

This is yet another example of reduced cycle time in composites to gain greater favor in automotive production.

Aerodynamics & fuel economy


Boeing has been successful in upping its monthly production of the 787 Dreamliner from 10 to 14 in August and predicts deliveries of 130-135 for the year. Airbus has commenced building the first wings for its new A350-1000 and currently holds the mantle of the largest CFRP composite wing at 105 feet for each wing [Puget]. This is likely to be rivaled and superseded by Boeing’s planned 777-9X wing which will be 106 feet long – extending to 117 feet with a unique folding wingtip. Both the Airbus and Boeing wings are relatively long and thin made possible by the structural strength of carbon fiber composites.

Fuel efficient aerial dream machines? You can call them that.

What waste?

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The quest for commercially viable technology breakthroughs in recycling carbon fibers and composites is perennial. At the forthcoming Fakuma International Trade Fair for Plastics Processing in Germany, Cannon will reportedly present its innovative EU-funded project CRESIM (Carbon Recycling by Epoxy Special Impregnation) aimed at the development of proper processing methods for the manufacture of CFRP parts using recycled carbon fiber through  closed loop manufacturing. The project addresses waste reuse by demonstrating a new innovative manufacturing process that potentially reuses up to 100% of the carbon fiber waste and scraps from different industrial sectors, thereby providing an opportunity for greening the production process and making efficiency gains [European Plastic Product Manufacturer].

Recall the Adidas slogan – impossible is nothing? The above just about sums it.

A glass fiber reinforced polyphthalamide (PPA) injection molding compound with high burst pressure and impact strength essential to withstand alternating stresses in dynamically stressed casing components in the automotive industry, has been introduced by Evonik. The molding compound also has good flow characteristics resulting in the molded parts having smooth defect-free surface [Plastics Today]. PPAs are semi-crystalline thermoplastics with high temperature stability and outstanding chemical resistance that can effectively replace metals in several applications.

Quick and efficient


Additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) has taken the world by storm in drastically shortening the concept-to-commercialization cycle. If you think additive manufacturing and the aerospace sector make strange bedfellows, you may want to think again. SABIC‘s lightweight polyetherimide (PEI) flame-retardant resin coupled with Stratsys‘ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) has addressed one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing for the aerospace sector – the ability to produce small volume parts quickly and effectively [European Plastic Product Manufacturer]. The additive manufactured PEI (SABIC’s ULTEM) affords greater design flexibility, lower cost production runs and accelerated cycle times compliant with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and OEM flame smoke toxicity (FST) regulations. SABIC’s PEI has been certified to Airbus material specifications and the resin has been used to additive manufacture more than 1,000 flight parts in the A350 XWB aircraft fleet. The 3D-printed parts replaced traditionally-manufactured parts to increase supply chain flexibility. This success story has shown that additive manufacturing technology is making metal replacement development easier for OEMs than trying to upgrade a metal component to a traditionally-manufactured plastic replacement. It makes the whole cycle faster and less expensive. SABIC has an extensive range of carbon fiber(CF) reinforced PEI – can we expect a slew of 3D-printed CF reinforced PEI aircraft components in the future?

A beginning has been made. The first step has been taken. Could this just be the tip of the iceberg for additive manufacturing to make a big splash in composites usage in the aerospace and automotive sectors?

Blowing strong


According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 1,994 megawatts (MW) wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in the first half of 2015 – which is more than double the installations in the same period last year. Looking forward, more than 100 wind projects are under construction in 24 states, representing more than 13,600MW of total wind capacity. There are now 67,870MW of installed onshore wind capacity in the U.S.[Renewable Energy World]. Wind energy pricing is at an all-time low according to a new report released by the Department of Energy (DOE). The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged under 2.5 cents/kWh for projects negotiating contracts in 2014 [Windpower Engineering & Development]. Wind projects built in 2014 had an average installed cost of $1,710/KW, down almost $600/KW from the peak in 2009 and 2010. In Europe, 584 offshore wind turbines were installed, adding 2.3GW capacity to the European electricity grid in H1 2015, per data released by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). In total there is now 10GW of connected offshore wind [The Guardian]. The average turbine size increased from 3.5MW in 2014 to 4.2MW in the first half of 2015. Commercial orders for 8MW turbines are trickling in. In August, the U.K. authorized the Forward consortium of four European utilities to build the joint-largest offshore wind project in the world. The two 1.2GW wind farms total almost four times the capacity of the largest operational project [Bloomberg]. The U.K. is banking on offshore wind to help meet its renewable energy and carbon targets and had about 4.5GW of capacity out of a total of 8.8GW at the end of 2014.

The turbine blades, whether onshore or offshore continue to rely on composites. The trend in using a carbon fiber/glass fiber hybrid in offshore to reduce cost is gathering momentum.

Chemistry at work


Extensive use of Sheet Molding Compound (SMC) composites in automotive applications has been prevalent since the 80s. Progressive developments in reduction of the specific gravity have evolved over the years through recipe changes involving chemistry. The successful use of chemically (silane) treated glass microspheres (from 3M) by CSP in lowering the specific gravity of SMC to 1.2 has paved the way to allow significant weight savings in composite body panels for the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette. A total of 21 composite body panels including doors, decklids, quarter panels and fenders have been developed for the Corvette. The low-density SMC is reportedly cost competitive with aluminum with considerable savings on the tooling cost vis-a-vis aluminum [Plastics News].

The trend in use of biotechnology for recycling of carbon fibers is embryonic. Around 3,000Tonnes of CFRP waste is generated in Europe alone. The Hohenstein Institute in Germany has reported success in using suitable microorganisms  to break down the epoxy resin matrix in CFRPs and returning it to the materials cycle as a metabolite. Simultaneously the carbon fibers are extracted without damage so that they can be reclaimed for use in new products [Innovation in Textiles]. This biotechnology route could supplement the existing multi-stage pyrolytic process for recycling carbon fibers.

Recycling trendsenvironment-1445492-m

A discerning global trend is the focus on a green environment and emphasis on recycling/conversion of all forms of waste to usable products. Typical examples are denim wear and sneakers from ocean plastic waste, ultra-clean fuel from unwashed waste plastics, to name a few. The fact that leading brand names such as Adidas and others are involved in such green projects underscores the relevance in today’s context. Believe it or not, the next great renewable energy source is tipped to be algae biofuel according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It is the newest and seemingly most viable form of clean energy, besting even solar. Algae, found throughout the oceans employ photosynthesis to create energy using sunlight. Some types of algae produce oils that they use to store energy – implying certain algae can be grown and harvested to produce biofuel, a net carbon-neutral process [Yahoo Finance].

When it comes to technology, we are living in a world where breakthroughs are imminent – be it graphene which is being touted as the material of the future (read next decade when it should be commercially viable) or biofuels where aviation tests have already shown promising results.

Millennials are bound to reap the benefits from such exciting technology breakthroughs that have the potential to fructify commercially in the coming decade.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



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



Cautious optimism is the watchword for 2015…..with US steering the global economy

Hello again,

At the outset, I wish all readers a Happy and Prosperous 2015 – an oft repeated start-of-the-year greeting, but one that merits mention nevertheless, for the sheer optimism and hope that it conveys.

Dollar Dominance ?


2014 was another roller coaster year, though the last quarter showed signs of a near return to normalcy, crude oil price fluctuations notwithstanding and shades of justified hope on global growth in 2015.

The International Monetary Fund [IMF] predicts global growth of 3.8% this year compared to 3.3% in 2014 [BBC News] – the fastest growth since 2011. The steep drop in crude oil price implies consumers have more to spend (less pain at the pump) on cars, furniture, appliances, whilst also reducing business costs. Oil price aside, the main source of strength apparently is the buoyant US economy that is expected to register around 3.1% growth in 2015. The 5% growth in Q3, 2014 was the swiftest for any quarter since 2003 and the world’s biggest economy is on an extended win streak [Yahoo Finance]. China is slowing as it transitions from investment to consumption. It was driven by investment and export performance that couldn’t last forever. Goldman Sachs expects several years of declining growth rates for China.  Japan is sliding into a recession after a disastrous Q3, 2014. Russia appears headed for one, while Europe is barely growing and Greece in the news yet again. There are some rumbling sources of potential trouble on prospects of a really strong growth year, but there is a decent chance that 2015 will be another year of gradual post-crisis rehabilitation [BBC News].

Probably a touch of cautious optimism is called for ?

 Polyurethane: one-upmanship on epoxy


Rapid strides continue to be made in new developments in the automotive sector in spite of low gas prices posing a threat to electric vehicles and, to a lesser extent, hybrids. Composite leaf springs are not a novelty – however, it is the combination of resin matrix, fiber reinforcement and processing technique that continuously undergoes technological advancements resulting in improved performance. The suspension of the new Volvo XC90 employs a transverse fiber-reinforced composite leaf spring instead of the usual array of coil springs. The compact design achieves a weight saving of 4.5 kg with additional functional benefits such as smoother ride, improved NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) and increased trunk volume as there are no suspension turrets [Plastics Today]. The RTM process for this composite spring uses Polyurethane (PU) resin from Henkel. Cycle time, that has been the bane of RTM in automotive applications, has been addressed through the use of low viscosity PU resulting in rapid mold-fill, fast fiber impregnation and short injection times. With a curing rate that is substantially faster than epoxy resins, cycle times are shorter, overall.

The quest in achieving shorter cycle times for more widespread use of composites in automotive applications, continues unabated. 

All-round innovation


The Abarth 695 Biposto has been described by its manufacturer as the smallest supercar with the perfect synthesis between street performance and racetrack thrill. Extensive use of carbon fiber results in an overall weight of 997 kg of this two-seater that also uses Polycarbonate (PC) glazing for the front fixed window having built-in sliding panels. SABIC‘s Exatec coating technology reportedly meets European regulatory requirements for transparency, scratch and abrasion resistance for PC-based vehicle windows [Plastics Today]. CFRP composites are used for the front bumper, side skirts, part of the dashboard, under the rear bumper (diffuser), side mirrors and seats.

Tequila time?


Driven by surging Mexican factories, full-year 2014 light vehicle output for North America totaled 17.24 million – up 7% from 2013, according to estimates from Automotive News Data Center. The forecast for 2015 is projected at around 17.4 million vehicles. Mexico’s free-trade agreement covering dozens of other countries have made it an attractive base for exports overseas and to South America [Automotive News]. While US output and Canada production were both up 5% in 2014, Mexico gained a whopping 12%.

Mexico is the new manufacturing destination for several global auto majors judging by the spate of massive investments in that nation in recent times.

 Holy Grail of Designers


The aerospace sector has been in the news recently with the induction of the Airbus A350 and, apparently, orders rolling in for this aircraft rivaling the Boeing 787. As is well known, both planes use composites in excess of 50% by weight. Commercial aircraft use thousands of brackets from the cockpit to the tail of the plane. If made from metal, the total amount of brackets can add a significant amount of weight. Victrex has developed a new Polyaryletherketone (PAEK) -based polymer and an innovative hybrid molding technology that enable overmolding of a PAEK-based composite with fiber reinforced Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) injection molding grades. The hybrid molded composite bracket is able to deliver up to 60% weight savings compared to stainless steel and titanium, while offering equivalent or better mechanical properties such as strength, stiffness and fatigue [Plastics Today]. The hybrid process uses a pre-formed composite like an insert in the injection molding tool and allows the continuously reinforced thermoplastic composite to be pre-fabricated and used in the same way as a metallic insert in the injection molding process. The PAEK-based composite is thermoformed prior to insertion. The new PAEK-based polymer allows for 70% fiber loading and processing temperatures (enabling faster manufacturing cycle times) that are approximately 40°C less than traditional PEEK-based composites and creates a very strong bond between a continuously-reinforced thermoplastic composite and an injection-molding polymer. The PAEK bracket can be produced in minutes compared to the hours it would take for a metal or thermoset equivalent. Overall part cost is reduced through elimination of such steps as edge sealing and X-ray inspections. The PEEK polymers can be either carbon or glass fiber reinforced grades, typically with 30-40% fiber loading.

Just goes to show that even small components in an aircraft merit consideration when it comes to exploring weight reduction possibilities.



Much has been spoken and written about wind energy becoming competitive with conventional electric generating technologies like natural gas and coal. In fact, a recent economic analysis by the leading investment banking firm Lazard using the “levelized cost of electricity”(LCOE) metric indicates that renewable generating technologies are not only competitive with fossil fuels, but are also cheaper than natural gas/coal in some markets [Forbes]. LCOE (referenced in one of my earlier posts), represents the per-kWh cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a power plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. LCOE for renewable generation is/can be lower in the near-term future than the “average” price of electricity provided by the electric power grid. In the most recent Annual Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) began using the “levelized avoided cost of energy” (LACE) for assessing the economic competitiveness of different generating technologies. The LACE metric estimates what it would have cost the grid to generate the electricity otherwise displaced by a new generation project. IEA expects offshore wind costs to drop 45% by 2050, while land-based wind expenses will decline by a relatively smaller 25%. The Department of Energy predicts a 40% price cut by 2030, while the UK (undisputed leader in offshore wind generation) expects turbine prices to drop overall expenses a sizable 17% by 2020 [The Motley Fool]. General Electric and other corporations are pushing for bigger, stronger and more efficient turbines in the > 4.1 MW range. While carbon fiber has been the mainstay for offshore wind turbine blades, glass fiber producers are introducing high modulus fibers to combat the stranglehold of the former. The key is in lighter weight due to longer blades – carbon fiber does have an edge over glass fiber on this score.

Only time will tell.



Stampable thermoplastics that received rave reviews in the 90s when they were introduced, continue to make progress in automotive applications. Faurecia has developed an integral structural floor comprising the front and rear passenger floor and trunk floor in glass fiber reinforced polyamide66 and made by the thermostamping technique. The thermoplastic composite also makes it possible to weld and overmold parts [Plastics Today]. The technology reportedly reduces part weight and costs compared to bonding, while producing a material able to withstand the very high temperatures created during painting that employs cataphoresis (cathodic electrodeposition). To muffle the noise, acoustic components were incorporated into the empty space between the upper and lower layers of the thermoplastic structure. The composite floor is 16.5 kg lighter than its steel counterpart (33% weight saving) and also reduces CO2 emissions by 1.65 gm/km.



When it comes to carbon fibers and CFRP composites, the Japanese have few peers. A 2014 report highlighting the Japanese perspective on automotive sector penetration predicts usage of CFRP parts will broaden from selected parts such as hoods and roofs in the 2013-2016 timeframe, to major structural components between 2017 and 2019 – especially in electric vehicles [Plastics Today]. Carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics are expected to make inroads in less demanding applications such as interior panels in 2019 and then extending to exterior panels. Between 2020-2025, lower material costs, shorter cycle times and improved yields will see greater adoption in structural components.

Considering the catalytic role played by Japanese companies (carbon fiber producers and automobile manufacturers) in expanding the market base for CFRP composites, obviously they have done their homework right on this prediction!


lighthouse-1318880-m (1)

CFRP composites are extending beyond rebar application in the construction industry. A lighthouse in Spain features a CFRP-GFRP combination. Several CFRP tubular profiles support a set of GFRP floor slabs and their bracings which surround the central tube that leads the stairs to the upper part in the lantern room [European Plastics News]. The structure consists of eight CFRP (epoxy matrix) tubular profiles, 31 meters high. The columns (circular section of 250mm diameter) are positioned in the vertex of an octagon inside a circumference of 4.5 meters diameter in the lighthouse base and 4 meters at its top. Four horizontal octagonal rings in GFRP with a diameter of 190mm are placed at different levels of the lighthouse every 6 meters. Five GFRP composite decks are distributed along the whole height of the lighthouse.

That GFRP and CFRP can co-exist in the design of a single structure – need further evidence?



The impact of the shale gas revolution on ethylene and propylene market dynamics has been dwelt with at length in several of my earlier posts. Less expensive ethane derived from shale gas makes ethylene production highly attractive and is behind large-scale US capacity additions. Companies such as Dow Chemical, Chevron Philips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are betting on increased competitiveness in the US and are constructing crackers to produce ethylene [Plastics Today]. Global ethylene capacity is poised to increase from 167 million Tons/year in 2014 to 208.5 million Tons by 2017. The shift away from naphtha definitely puts propylene availability and price at a risk – but alternate routes are expected to materialize commercially in 2016 to restore parity, to some extent.

Crude oil price is expected to hover in the $60-70/barrel range through 2015 if one were to go by the budget projections of OPEC nations and others. From a consumer perspective, the drop in gas price at the pump was the silver lining in Q4, 2014. Will it continue through 2015?

A surging US dollar has battered most major currencies, with the euro currently trading at almost its lowest since 2006.

Fingers crossed as we wait to see what unfolds this year.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram




The show must go on……geopolitical distractions notwithstanding

Hello all,

Welcome to another post, as most readers make their way back to resume business activities after the summer sojourn.



The latest economic assessment indicates  that both the global and US economy are at an inflection point with a somewhat faster growth rate. The initial phase of the fragile European recovery from its double-dip recession has been tentative [BNY Mellon]. Japanese growth surged in Q1 and then plunged in Q2, resulting in a relatively flat GDP for H1, 2014 – the expansion is however expected to resume. Geopolitical turmoil has been occurring in various locations and appears to have worsened in recent times. A dip in export growth helped send the German economy in reverse gear in Q2, with GDP down by 0.2% compared to Q1, mainly due to import growth outperforming the country’s exports. France also witnessed zero growth in the second quarter. Not surprisingly, the Spanish and Portugese economies expanded by 0.6% in Q2, though observers warn of the vulnerability of both, to shocks [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The stock market was on a roller coaster ride in early August and there currently appears to be an uptick, following a brief period of stabilization.


refinery-bp-107264-m (1)

What made news in mid-August on the energy front was the unsurprising revelation that the US produced 13.63 million barrels per day (BPD) of oil and natural gas liquids in April 2014, which was 2 million BPD more than Saudi Arabia, per data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This energy miracle has been made possible by the shale oil and natural gas boom from states such as Texas and North Dakota, which saw their respective production levels soar by 119% and 177% from 2010 to 2013 [The Motley Fool]. Despite turmoil around the world, oil prices are at 13-month lows – analysts at Goldman Sachs expect oil price to remain stable over the next year, thanks to America’s production boom replacing oil from less stable areas of the world.

Little wonder that reshoring is no longer a myth in the US with the manufacturing renaissance gaining ground progressively.



Audi, the Volkswagen AG subsidiary, is introducing GFRP suspension springs before the end of this year for an upcoming, upper mid-size model. The composite spring is around 40% lighter than its steel counterpart (3.5 lbs vs. 6 lbs) resulting in a weight saving of ~9.7 lbs for four springs. The GFRP springs save weight at a crucial location in the chassis system, enhancing vibrational comfort and therefore making driving more precise [Plastics News]. The composite spring is reportedly made by wrapping glass fibers in alternating angles around a core of twisted fibers impregnated with epoxy resin. The impregnated strand is thicker than the wire of a steel spring and the overall diameter is slightly larger.



The automotive sector continues its relentless pursuit of lightweighting as a means of achieving fuel efficiency to meet both EU regulations and CAFE norms in the US. At the 2014 VDI Plastics in Automotive Engineering Conference in Germany; Volkswagen described an experimental CFRP crossbeam (front, central and rear crossbeams for the Tiguan model), all designed for identical bending and buckling strength as steel crossbeams. Epoxy resins with glass transition temperatures of 120°C, 150°C and 180°C were evaluated keeping in perspective car body manufacturing tolerances for permanent deformation after typical 200°C electrophoretic paint dip (EPD) coating oven exposure [European Plastics News]. Front and rear crossbeams were fixed to the steel bodywork by resistive element welding and rivets and the central crossbeam by screws and epoxy adhesive.



The use of composites in window frames in lieu of PVC is well known. However, it is the gradual shift in the type of matrix material that is capturing the attention of the building sector. While epoxy and vinyl ester resins have been popular, polyurethane (PU) matrix is emerging as the preferred choice in view of better thermal insulation characteristics. The composite profiles based on GFRP or CFRP (generally the former) are produced by pultrusion. With a thermal conductivity similar to to that of wood or PVC, the window frames satisfy the requirements of energy-saving regulations and passive house standards [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The superior mechanical properties stem from the high glass fiber content (~80% by weight), thereby making it possible to manufacture profiles with a very narrow visible height and low installation depth – such as sliding doors for balconies and terraces.



A new thermoplastic composite for high-speed, high-volume injection molding with tensile strengths close to or better than metals, is making waves with the potential to replace titanium aerospace bolts. With both GF and CF versions, the material comes in three performance levels depending on the combination of polymer types and fillers. Tensile strength can reach from up to 50,000psi to as high as 120,000psi, that exceeds steel. Tensile modulus ranges from up to 5 million psi to as high as 12 million psi [Design News]. The composites are 75% lighter than steel and 60% lighter than titanium. Thermoplastics include PEEK, PPS, PA, PEI, PPA. Short or long fibers can be used depending on mechanical strengths desired. Potential applications include nuts, bolts, gears, brackets, recreational product structures, sporting goods. Market sectors include aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, alternate energy, medical and electronics.



Both BMW and Boeing have done pioneering work in recycling of carbon fiber, considering the extensive usage by both manufacturers in the automotive and aerospace sectors respectively. They also signed a collaboration agreement in 2012 for joint research and knowledge-sharing in CF recycling. BMW uses recycled CF in the epoxy resin based CFRP roof of the i3 electric drive and i8 plug-in hybrid cars as well as the i3’s PU-CFRP rear shell. Oriented (anisoptropic) and isotropic non-woven fleece materials from CFRP waste materials is now a practical reality. The recycled CF yarns are stretch-broken with high tensile strength and low yarn count, thereby rendering them suitable for processing into textile fabrics. While most recycled CF is obtained by thermal treatment to burn away organic polymer content, there is also a supercritical fluid solvent (solvolysis) process. Fluidization in water makes recycled CF pulp non-woven tissue-mat fleece, akin to papermaking. Up to 3 meter wide fleece is made in a mechanical carding process, sans heat. This involves cutting CF fabric production scrap, opening the fibers and combining them into a fleece that has superior draping performance compared to uni-directional preform fabrics [European Plastics News].

The high cost of CF and CFRP necessitates ways and means of recycling and reuse of CF. When two leaders in their respective market sectors collaborate, the outcome can only be positive and a commercial success.



New developments abound when it comes to revolutionizing the way cutting, drilling and machining of composites is accomplished. Ultrasonic-assisted machining (UAM) is the latest technique that utilizes a specially designed piezo-electric transducer working in tandem with a traditional turning, drilling or milling machine and developed by a team of researchers at Leicestershire, UK. The device creates ultrasonic vibrations between 20kHz and 39kHz and the machining technique makes composite materials sufficiently “soft” in the area being worked – hence much less force is needed from the cutting tool, resulting in less damage, less waste and a better finish [Plastics Today]. CFRP composites based on epoxy resin have been successfully machined utilizing this technique. The challenge lay in minimizing, and, if possible, completely eliminating damage due to drilling. Ultrasonic drilling has shown excellent damage mitigation with significant drilling force reductions.



The first all-thermoplastic liftgate has been produced for the 2014 Nissan rogue crossover in North America. The complete liftgate (recyclable) assembly weighs 24 kg, is 30% lighter than stamped steel and contributes to fuel economy increase. The outer panel (2.8mm thick) with integrated spoiler is molded from a thermoplastic olefin (TPO), while the inner panel (2.5mm thick) is a 30% long glass fiber reinforced PP. Injection molding on 4,400Tonne presses was used for producing the component [Plastics Today].



The shale gas revolution impacting the market dynamics of ethylene and propylene availability (and price) has been dwelt with in several earlier posts. The margins with ethane cracking are almost double that of naphtha [Platts]. Hence, one need not have to be a financial wizard to figure out the commercial viability and profitability of ethane (shale oil/natural gas based) crackers (in lieu of crude oil based naphtha). Ethane production continues to rise in the US. Global polymer major SABIC is modifying its cracker in the UK to handle shale gas imported from the US – the plant is expected to be commissioned in 2016 [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. Deriving advantage from cutting edge technology in creating new sources of competitive feedstock is the global norm being embraced by corporate leaders whose vision is clearly to maintain their strategic advantage extending into the future.



The US demand for pipes is expected to rise 7.3% annually through 2018 driven strongly by growth in crude oil and natural gas activity as pipes are used extensively in drilling and oil&gas pipeline applications. Per latest report from a leading market research firm, demand will also be supported by a rebound in building construction, increasing housing completions and strong interest in kitchen and bathroom renovation projects that will boost demand for drain, waste and vent pipe. Plastic pipes are poised to grow at a rapid pace of 8.7% annually through 2018. Growth will be spurred by the increasing use of plastic (including composites) pipes at the expense of steel and concrete. In applications such as potable water and sewer/drainage, plastic pipes will be increasingly specified by consumers trying to reduce maintenance and replacement costs [Plastics Today]. HDPE pipes that accounted for the second largest share (next to PVC) of pipe demand in 2013, is expected to see the largest demand in 2018 boosted by its use in sewer/drainage, potable water and natural gas distribution applications – all of which also use composites. The spinoff from ethane surplus (shale gas fallout) is bound to result in abundance of polyethylene. The technological advances by manufacturers in introducing improved grades of HDPE, rivaling composites in many applications, could be one of the reasons attributed to the spurt in demand (through 2018).



As we approach the end of the third quarter, the general global optimism on growth is being dampened by geopolitical turmoil that is likely to linger awhile. In normal circumstances, the immediate fallout would have been a spike in crude oil (and consequent energy) prices, considering the clout that OPEC wields. The situation this time around is however slightly different – thanks to the shale gas (fracking) revolution in the US and less dependence on imported oil. It has been almost a tectonic shift and game changer with wide repercussions in the polyolefinic (PE,PP) supply chain scenario. The consequent upside has been the spate of technological advances in polymeric composites to derive maximum advantage from the situation. While the battle lines between metals and composites were always drawn and clear, the latter continues to inch its way and encroach the entrenched domain of the former in several market segments.

But then, we do need to remind ourselves of the adage “slow and steady wins the race”, albeit with a slight  twist….. and that is the industry needs to up the ante by transforming the current canter (relatively speaking) into a gallop, and hasten bridging the yawning (double digit and multi-fold) gap that still persists between metals and composites’ industrial usage.

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



Rapid Advances in Polymeric Composites – rendering technological myths redundant

Hello again,

Unseasonal weather in many regions especially since the beginning of 2014, has once again brought discussions on climate change and global warming to the fore. The fact that predictions are already in place for a warmer-than-normal summer in several parts of Europe, North America lend credence to the global warming phenomenon.




They say wine gets better with age, but the regions we typically associate with its production could be in for a major shakeup due to climate change over the next few decades. Researchers are predicting a two-thirds decline in production in the Bordeaux and Rhone regions in France, Tuscany, Italy and Napa Valley in California by 2050 due to global warming that will make it more difficult to grow grapes. Instead, regions once considered inhospitable to grape production will take over-including Northern Europe (Britain too), the U.S. North West and central China [Design&Trend]. The United Nations’ latest report on climate change states it is inevitable and that countries need to start thinking of managing the same [The Atlantic]. Protagonists of green energy would perhaps state that this is a tacit reference to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by embracing wind energy, greater reliance on CNG, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through fuel efficiency of automobiles enabled (among others) by greater use of lightweight plastics and composites etc.

The key word is adaptation rather than mitigation.



The emphasis on manufacturing innovation in composites to accelerate growth in commercial applications has been spelt out clearly by the late March announcement of the U.S. proposing a Composites Industry Institute christened as Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute with the federal government offering $70 million in funding that has to be matched. In its call for proposals for an institute that focuses on overcoming the barriers to greater widespread use of advanced composites, the Department of Energy (DOE) says it is pursuing the promise of composite materials. Industry analysts predict the global carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) market to grow to $25.2 billion by 2019 and glass fiber reinforcements to reach $16.4 billion by 2016 [Plastics News]. The goal of the new institute will be to lower the cost of advanced composites by 50%, reduce the energy to make composites by 75% and increase recyclability to more than 95% within 10 years.

What better news can the composites industry hope for ?



At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commissions’s Joint Research Center detailed how CFRP could revolutionize the shipping container market segment, (hitherto the domain of steel) based on Life-cycle Cost Benefit Analysis – the  successful proven mantra in the composites industry. Looking at the analysis…….while a composite container may cost EUR 6,000 ($8,300) versus EUR 2,200 ($3,050) for a steel container; at a diesel fuel cost of EUR 1.60 per liter ($8.40/gallon), the composite container would break even after the container has travelled 120,000 km (74,500 miles) on sheer weight considerations alone – 1.2 Tonnes vs. 2.2 Tonnes for steel, with the inevitable advantage of corrosion resistance, the bane of steel. The icing on the cake ? Composite containers could also potentially be foldable and hence could be laid flat on their return to China [Plastics Today]. In 2006, Congress passed a law in America requiring all containers arriving into American seaports (from foreign shores) be scanned for illicit materials and illegal immigrants. But the deadline for compliance continues to be pushed back due to technical issues: scanning steel requires high power X-rays or even gamma rays which are expensive to generate and hazardous. CFRP containers, however, can be scanned with “soft” X-rays that are easier to generate and use.

A revolution in the making in storming the steel bastion ?

Air Cargo Containers was granted Technical Standard Order (TSO C90d) certification for its lightweight composite AMJ model Unit Load Device (ULD) in December 2013. It is the first all-composite container to receive this certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is constructed of proprietary composite side panels and floor panel, built around an aerospace grade aluminum frame for lightness and durability as well as improved maintenance characteristics and flame retardant capability. Tare weight is 480 lbs which is 350 lbs less than competing aluminum containers. Weight savings achieved is around 42% [Plastics Today].


1266636_laboratory_glassware (2)

Processing of liquid thermoplastic resins by RTM is now a commercial reality. The formulated resins from Arkema are based on various oligomers, monomers, additives, catalysts and fillers. Targeted cycle times in the automotive sector are 2-3 minutes using fast RTM and 20-30 minutes for for bus and truck components. The density of the composite ranges from 1.55 with carbon fiber (60% volume) to 1.9 with glass fiber (50% volume). Unlike unsaturated polyesters, the resins do not contain styrene. The thermoplastic characteristics enable design of composite parts that are easily thermoformed and recyclable with comparable mechanical performance to epoxy parts [Plastics Today].

Technological advances abound in structural adhesive solutions for bonding lightweight materials including CFRP in the automotive sector. Recent formulations of Dow‘s adhesive offer a cycle time of around one minute facilitating mass series production. Open time can be adjusted to accommodate specific mounting requirements such as quicker curing time by infra-red treatment. The fact that the initial adhesion requires no additional fixing tools is an added advantage [Plastics Today].



There has always been several schools of thought when it comes to discussing the real benefits of wind energy, costwise. Latest research (March 2014) from top American universities has found that when total costs include environmental impacts, U.S. wind energy costs virtually the same as natural gas. A collaborative study from the University of California and Syracuse University examines price differentials between American wind energy and natural gas, when long-term factors such as the future costs of carbon dioxide emissions are accounted for [Climate Group]. Supplementing data from the U.S. Department of Energy on the current lifetime “levelized” cost of electricity from a new wind farm and from an advanced combined cycle gas plant, the research project has factored three additional aspects – future cost of carbon dioxide emissions added to the price of gas, cost of supply intermittency added to price of wind and cost of correcting natural gas price volatility added to price of gas. On adjusting figures to reflect these three conditions, the new average levelized cost of electricity from wind is 9.2cents/kWh – a tad higher than natural gas’s 8.85cents/kWh. The result is even more favorable for wind if one considers some of the larger possible values for carbon emissions.

The interesting fact with such studies is that all forms of variables that affect the ultimate economics are factored in arriving at a realistic comparison, with less room for any bias.



In my last post, I had stated that it may be worthwhile looking at an alternate route to benzene to combat the looming styrene shortage and its effect on unsaturated polyesters/vinyl ester resin prices. With the current natural gas glut in the U.S. (potentially to be followed by the UK, Australia and China), the development of high performance ceramic membranes has opened up the distinct possibility of of converting natural gas to benzene. Once commercialized, this approach could reduce the practice of flaring natural gas (across the world) which wastes about 140 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Oil wells in remote areas often use flaring, because transporting the natural gas to markets would be very expensive [MIT Technology Review].

Jointly with Hyundai Motor, Lotte, Korea has developed superlight CFRP composites for the main frame, roof&door side panels for Hyundai’s Intrado concept car that was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March and achieved a weight reduction of around 60%. Through its unique structure, the thermoset composite  manufactured using high-pressure RTM, has the strength equivalent to steel [Plastics Today].

Conventional techniques such as milling or water-jet cutting suffer high levels of tool wear when machining CFRP composites, negating, to some extent the gains in efficiency and life-cycle cost that  it promises. A new automated laser processing technique for CFRP structures in mass production scenarios is currently in the works, thanks to Volkswagen‘s initiative in spearheading a joint consortium effort. The goal is to employ a new fiber-guided, high performance laser with pulse lengths in the nanosecond range. As CFRP contains both stiff fibers and sticky polymers, the fibers lead to wear on mechanical tools such as mills and cutters, while the sticky polymer increases the deterioration of the tool by blocking the rake and clearance angle. Water jet machining is also problematic as it requires the use of abrasive materials which might remain in the cutting edge and initiate contact corrosion. A laser-based operation should avoid tool-wear issues entirely, cutting instead through laser ablation. In such an operation, a short interaction with the workpiece is clearly beneficial – the option is still to use nanosecond pulses rather than the even faster femtosecond sources being deployed in other material processing applications. With shorter interaction on the surface, the plasma plume can expand in all directions. But with thicker material, the plasma can expand in only one direction – up. This slows down the expansion process and leads to an increased heat input. Further, economics is also a factor since ultra-fast sources are more expensive than nano-second pulsed systems. Critically, it is the investment required per Watt of average output that could be the driving force in decision-making [Optics].



At least 14 billion pounds of new polyethylene (PE) capacity are anticipated for North America by 2018 as producers look to capitalize on growing supplies of low-cost natural gas supplies in the region. As this amount is more than the domestic market will be able to absorb, part of the new capacity will need to be exported and PE prices are likely to decline. In polypropylene (PP), new supplies of propylene monomer from the propane dehydrogenation (PDH) route through one (current) PP expansion project in the region. About 3 billion pounds of new capacity will eventually transpire in the next few years, which could also lead to increased PP exports from North America and make prices competitive in the long run [Plastics News].

The battle of the polyolefins will be intense in the coming years. Whether PP will prevail is definitely a moot point at this stage, as the economics of the PDH route have yet to be commercially proven.


Stay optimistic on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

With the uptick in global economy, the timing is just right for  companies to draw up expansion plans for organic growth and/or make strategic acquisitions that have synergistic benefits for a robust 2015 and thereafter. There are definite signs of the eurozone recovery with many countries within the EU reporting a slew of economic data that is most encouraging. The stockmarket has been on a tear lately prompting the Cassandras to speak of an impending bubble.

But, hey, the show must go on and the projected optimistic scenario should make us all sport a wide smile.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram