Category Archives: Steel

Materials Technology Breakthroughs – are we ahead of the curve ?

Hello all,

As individuals and organizations commence introspection of H1 2013…….



“Human-caused climate change is already helping shift the planet’s natural balance according to scientists – creating more heatwaves, drought and natural downpours. A stormy and expensive reality that is already at our doorsteps”. That was the screaming headline on ABC News on the last day of June. The extreme weather that we have witnessed globally in the past few weeks proved once again how fickle mother nature could be – is mankind to be blamed for what is being witnessed ? Ask the protagonists of climate change.

The debate will continue for some time to come.



The first half of 2013 has just gone by and a quick analysis is like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts. The continued decline in China‘s manufacturing activity as reflected in the official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipping to 50.1 in June (from 50.8 in May) has pundits proclaiming weakening of both external and domestic demand and critics describing the nation as going from “driver to drag” on global growth [CNBC]. Surprisingly, Spain‘s PMI moved up to 50 (from 48.1 in May) with manufacturing activity recording the strongest reading in more than two years. The June PMI for the eurozone as a whole for the manufacturing sector rose to a 16-month high of 48.8, up from May’s reading of 48.3. U.S. manufacturing activity bounced back in June with the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) index rising to 50.9 in June (from 49.0 in May) [BBC News].

When it comes to technical fabrics, the sky is the limit on fabric styles and innovations in machine technology. Leading producer Karl Mayer has expanded its range of products with the launch of its new multi-axial machine for producing composites from which rotors of wind turbines are made. The new Maxtronic Multiaxial has not yet been formally released into the market. The new model incorporates a well thought-out design of the transport chains and the weft-laying units guarantee absolute uniformity and constant yarn tension levels when processing technical yarns at every laying angle. The model, that reportedly offers a high level of productivity, combines high speed and powerful performance with gentle yarns treatment and accuracy. Like Malitronic, its predecessor, the Maxtronic is available in a working width of 100 inches and the finished textile can be cut into webs of the required width directly on the machine, due to the integrated cutting device. The machine operates in the standard gauges of E5 and E6 [ Knitting Industry].



Light weight injection molded truck oil pans made from polyamide66 reinforced with 35% glass fiber displacing traditional aluminum, could well be the trend in future. Apart from being lighter, the new pan is resistant to chip impacting from stone and gravel, coupled with a 2dB reduction in noise level. The excellent flowability of the molding compound due to low melt viscosity enables fast set-up and molding cycles, allowing precise tolerance control as the material flows easily into complex thin sections of the mold [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].



A synergistic collaboration between Du Pont and Citroen has resulted in the successful development of a composite side impact beam that has passed crash tests. Made from continuous glass fiber reinforced polyamide66 laminate, the composite beam led to a 40% weight reduction over traditional ultra-high strength steel. The composite part is shaped into the beam in a heating and forming process in which the material crystallizes. In a second stage, steel connectors are inserted and the part is back molded in polyamide66. The beam shows very high stiffness in the -40C to +90C range. The composite part absorbs more energy than metal and short-glass fiber reinforced polymer beams [Plastics News].

As part of a vehicle’s shock absorber system, automaker Fiat has developed the jounce bumper with a thermoplastic elastomer (instead of PU foam) that delivers high elastic recovery, excellent fatigue and durability and low stiffness variation over a wide range of temperatures. It dampens noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) by preventing the metal shock absorber spring from fully compacting from shock impacts due to potholes, curb and objects on the road. It also offers an additional spring function to improve vehicle behavior when negotiating smaller holes on the road surface and cobblestones or quick direction changes or sudden braking [Plastics Today]. Several OEMs have tested the new design on a variety of vehicles over tens of thousands of kilometers without any behavioral issues. The new design delivers similar performance to PU, but with lower part damage. After traversing 3,000km of cobblestoned roads, the new bumper exhibited less than 3 % permanent deformation, far below the industry standard of 10%.



A metallic luster film containing no metal whatsoever is replacing solutions based on plating, coating and metal vapor deposition. Toray has introduced a conductive PET-based film of thickness 100-145 micrometers comprising several hundred individual lamellar layers or more formed during the extrusion process with precise control of layer thickness. The refractive effect of these individual layers in the film can be exploited in components such as speedometers and decorative components whose color can be varied from chrome-like to a light transmitting color through light application. It can also be used in the form of discrete film inserts in injection molding [Plastics Today].

Welcome to a new type of carbon fiber reinforced graphite material designed for industrial heat treatment applications. The carbon-fiber-reinforced-carbon (CFRC) high-strength composite is said to be ideal for use in high-temperature processes requiring lightweight and temperature resistant materials such as heat treatment of steel components for the automotive and aerospace industry or coating of silicon wafers in the photovoltaics (PV) industry. Use of uni-directional CF rather than woven CF reportedly offers dramatically improved performance [Plastics Today].



Renewable energy may supply more electricity than nuclear reactors or natural gas by 2016, spurred by declining costs and growing demand in emerging markets, according to a statement released by the International Energy Agency [IEA] in the last week of June. Wind, solar, bio-energy and geothermal use may grow 40% in the next five years, double the 20% pace in 2011. The findings are another indication that renewables increasingly are rivaling fossil fuels on price without subsidy, as the cost of wind energy declines. Emerging markets will be the largest drivers of growth for renewables in the next few years with China accounting for 40% or about 310GW of new capacity. Growth will slow in industrial nations because of subsidy reductions and uncertainty about government support for the technology according to IEA. IEA’s push for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies will continue while noting that incentives for coal, oil and gas in 2011 were globally six times higher than renewables [Bloomberg].

An alternate technology for lightweight compressed natural gas and hydrogen fuel tanks that utilizes selective fiber placement of carbon fiber has resulted in significant reduction in weight and cost through a 20% reduction in material utilization. The methodology involved analysis of discrete composite elements for a manufacturing process with discontinuous reinforcing fibers [Plastics Today].



If the U.S. is making waves in successfully exploiting fracking technology for shale gas exploration, can the UK be far behind? Following a report released by the British Geological Survey [BGS] in the last week of June that shale gas resources of around 40 trillion cubic meters lay underground across much of the North of England; the Government announced that companies looking to extract shale gas shall offer communities located near exploratory drilling facilities £100,000, while those next to production sites would receive 1% of revenues. The shale strata identified by BGS are reportedly much thicker than those in the U.S.- hence one UK extraction station should be able to extract as much as several U.S. ones, thereby minimizing the effect on the environment [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

The market dynamics on PE/PP could change even more if a fraction of the potential shale gas is successfully tapped for extraction.

The fact that a variety of plastic and non-plastic materials will play key roles in vehicle lightweighting implies that various material combinations will need to be somehow bonded together – enter the role of adhesives. Whilst high-performance and specialty vehicles alike are increasingly employing structural adhesives; in the longer term, even mass-market vehicles will increasingly be glued together [Plastics Today]. Experts predict that the amount of adhesive employed in a car may grow by as much as 33% in the next 5-10 years from the current 15kg. The advent of higher performance structural adhesives implies load-bearing parts and components such as doors, bumpers and struts can now be bonded and stiffened as well. Case in point is the Cadillac CTS that uses 387 feet of structural adhesives. Hybrid structural adhesives are the latest trend that offer high structural and damping performance, combining the performance of three different adhesive bonding technologies: the resistance and mechanical strength of epoxies, elasticity of PU and fast assembly rates of MMA. This new breed of adhesives combines elongation, low modulus and high mechanical performance with high impact, peel and shear strength for a range of temperatures from -80C to +140C. The use of primer can be dispensed with as the bond remains flexible, yet allows rapid handling of the bonded parts. The broadest range of heterogeneous materials can be joined including treated metals, composites, ABS and PC, glass, zinc, CFRP, SMC/BMC/RTM compounds. This class of adhesives replaces welding and riveting methods of joining, couples damping with acoustic features, mitigates noise, exhibits excellent elasticity and peel strength [Aderis].

Conquering the last frontier in adhesive technology ?



It was evident at Chinaplas 2013 that local OEMs are looking to up the PP usage in vehicles from current levels of 45-55kg. Use of PP in vehicles is the highest in Europe and some new luxury vehicles are using almost 90kgs [Plastics Today]. Large cars in Europe traditionally use PC and PC/ABS extensively. Polyamide has hitherto been the preferred choice for under-the-hood applications. Henceforth, PP could make inroads with short-fiber reinforced PP likely to storm the polyamide bastion of intake manifolds, thanks to technological advancements in PP properties.

Now, if that happens, it would be no small feat !

An ASTM International plastics committee has recently announced a big change to the Resin Identification Code. The iconic chasing-arrows symbol will be replaced by a solid equilateral triangle [Plastics News]. There will be a transitional period in switching to the triangle, though.

Changing times….. and changing rules.



A June report on automotive plastics estimates the global market demand to top£30 billion by 2018 with the industry expected to grow more than 13 % annually between 2013 and 2018. This should translate into sales of £30 billion by 2018 compared to £14 billion in 2012. Around 50% of automotive plastics is used in Asia followed by Europe with 28% and North America with 11.3%. PP, the largest single base resin, constitutes 37% of all plastics used [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

Scottish industrial textiles producer Don&Low has developed a new range of non-woven composite fabrics that combine spunbond non-wovens with innovative reflective foils and metallized films that find use for a variety of functional and decorative purposes. The benefits of the reflective composites include low emissivity, reflective surface that acts as a radiant barrier to improve thermal insulation either to improve heat retention or to assist in keeping items cool and also allow passage of water vapor(breathable), while at the same, being water repellant [Innovation in Textiles].

A single-piece air extractor (hood scoop) used on GM‘s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 employs a carbon fiber reinforced epoxy prepreg. The component was formed on a tool fabricated from a low-temperature molding compound tooling material. The resin was chosen for its exceptional clarity and ability to produce an aesthetically pleasing rigid structure directly from the mold with minimal reworking requirements.



With the current glut in natural gas in the U.S., there could be a significant amount of domestic LNG being shipped overseas if applications under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] are reviewed favorably. This could result in a spike in domestic natural gas price that currently hovers around $4/MBTU – compared to $12/MBTU in Europe and $14/MBTU in Japan. If prices rise, coal could replace natural gas – hence the focus should be more on wind energy [Renewable Energy World].

One hopes better sense prevails on this issue.

In view of the ensuing holidays, our next blog will be posted in early September when most readers (from over 100 countries) would be back after their summer sojourn.

Till then,


S. Sundaram




Lightweighting with Polymers & Composites – the Quest is Perennial

Hello all,

The report card on performance of nations and leading companies for Q1 2013 is out and has been the subject of review and intense debate throughout April.



China’s gross domestic product (GDP) came in at 7.7%, down from the previous quarter’s 7.9%. In March, industrial production increased 8.9%, just shy of the 10.1 % lift [China Spectator]. U.S. GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.5% from Q4 2012 and was just short of the expected 3.0% [Hot Air]. Singapore’s GDP contracted 1.4% over the previous quarter. U.K.’s GDP expanded 0.3% quarter-on-quarter driven by the services sector growth and bounce-back in North sea oil and gas output [Trading Economics]. The German economy stabilized in the first quarter after contracting in Q4 2012 [RTT News].



A Reuters column last weekend stated that officials believe that the euro zone had turned the corner, sharpening the focus on longer-term reforms and structures……definitely news to cheer about from a global perspective. Which begs the question – has the euro zone hit the bottom of the U ?

After the “Jack-Rabbit” start to 2013, are we in for a spring swoon to the stock market ? Predictions are for a mitigated spring slide. There are several positives that may offset some of the negatives making for a potential decline that may be less steep than seen in recent years [Business Insider].

There was more news to cheer about last weekend. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was back in the skies following a successful commercial flight on April 27.  Aerospace grade carbon fiber producers and CFRP processors, in particular, would be heaving a sigh of relief as the grounding had really nothing to do with composites, but was yet  holding back progress in a muted manner.



Global assembly of light vehicles is forecast to reach 82.1 million units in 2013, representing a 4% year-on-year growth. North American assembly is forecast to reach 15.9 million units, representing a 3.6% increase from 2012, driven primarily by the U.S. automotive market. China is projected to achieve assembly of 18.9 million units – an impressive jump of 14% from 2012 [Plastics Today].

A highly reinforced polyamide 6 with 60% glass fiber loading renders metal superfluous in front end carriers for passenger cars. In addition to mounts for the headlamps, the front end carrier of the new Skoda Octavia also integrates injection-molded mounts for the radiator, hood lock, anti-theft system and air ducts. The composite product, with just one injection mold, eliminates the complicated handling and shaping of sheet metal; has significantly better mechanical properties, displays good flow, allows for very thin walls, topping off with a finely grained structure that fits well with the overall visual appearance [Plastics Today].



Heavy steel leaf springs in automotive suspension systems may well make way for composites. Henkel has developed a RTM process for composite leaf springs using glass fiber and polyurethane (PU) resin. The GFRP leaf springs are reportedly 65% lighter than their steel counterpart. The PU resin cures significantly faster (than epoxy), penetrates and impregnates the glass fiber more easily due to its low viscosity, thereby enabling very short injection time. The exceptionally high stress intensity factor (which is a measure of toughness) of the PU resin has a positive effect on the fatigue behavior under load and, hence ideal for car leaf springs that are constantly subject to dynamic loading. Risks of local overheating and resulting shrinkage (in the RTM process) is reduced as the PU resin generates less heat overall during curing than epoxy resins. Hence, even thick components with several layers of fiber/fabric, cure fast [Plastics Today].


wind mills (sept 29)

The quest for monster 100-meter wind turbine blades required to make offshore wind compete with fossil fuels continues. Wind turbines account for around 33% of the cost of offshore wind farms – installation costs are the major expense. Use of larger turbines reduces the number of wind turbines needed, thereby decreasing installation and maintenance costs. However, as turbines get bigger, the loads on the blades and hence their weight, goes up exponentially. Traditional blade manufacture involves forms as long as the blades. Blade Dynamics, partly owned by American Superconductor, has developed proprietary ways to make 12-20 meter sections of carbon fiber (CF) blades and then splicing them seamlessly, thereby eliminating the need for large forms [MIT Technology Review]. Though more expensive than glass fiber (GF) blades, CF blades are lighter. By making the blade in smaller sections, its possible to make more precise aerodynamic structures, thereby improving performance. It is also possible to put longer, lighter (CF) blades on existing wind turbine designs. Longer blades gather more wind, allowing the turbines to generate more power at lower wind speeds, increasing revenue in the process. Other advantages of lighter blades include feasibility to design new wind turbines that have lighter, less expensive components such as drive shaft, tower and foundation.

Carbon or glass fiber for longer blades and higher MW turbines for offshore ? The battle rages. As of now, CF has the definite edge.



When it comes to lightweighting technologies, the aerospace sector is not far behind automotive. Polycarbonate (PC) and its co-polymers are enabling processors to produce parts with thinner walls that help reduce interior weight of an aircraft. Parts can be molded or extruded with very thin walls (down to 1.5 mm) while complying with leading flame, smoke and toxicity (FST) standards with halogen-free flame retardants to support sustainability [Plastics Today]. SABIC‘s new range of PC co-polymers have special features called the shear-thinning effect and are also said to meet tough commercial toxicity standards from Boeing and Airbus. The products flow slowly in low shear conditions (extrusion) and flow quickly in high-shear processes (injection molding).



If you thought that single piece thermosetting SMC was the prerogative of bumpers for trucks and heavy goods vehicles, here is  the not-so-surprising news….. future trend is for such bumpers to be manufactured on a modular basis from several components such as polyamide and polyester injection molded thermoplastic compounds. Headlamp supports would be from highly reinforced polyamide 6 with 60% glass fiber. The supports hold the headlamps and the light strips. They not only have to bear their weight (around 8.5 kgs per headlight), but must also withstand very high static and dynamic loads – hence must not fracture even under severe dynamic acceleration of up to 10 times the force of gravity. The U-shaped center front-step which is connected to the headlamp supports is injection molded from a PET+PBT blend reinforced with 20% glass fiber. The part is provided with numerous ribs and designed for a static load of 2kN as it has to bear the weight of the driver as he climbs on to the front to clean the wind screen. The thermoplastic blend has adequate flexural stiffness that renders steel reinforcement redundant [Plastics Today].

The technological advances in thermoplastics and blends thereof in the past decade have been phenomenal – especially in the automotive sector, where they were considered taboo for load-bearing applications not long ago.



Component integrity is critical to keeping aircraft in service to minimize maintenance and downtime. Brackets for use in aircraft structural applications have now been developed in carbon fiber reinforced polyether ether ketone (PEEK). The brackets weigh 45 grams each and used in primary and secondary structural applications in commercial and military aircraft. Besides a 70% weight saving compared to metals (stainless steel, aluminum and titanium), other benefits include faster part manufacturing cycle times (in minutes) compared to thermosets ( in hours). At current fuel prices, a 1 kg reduction in weight from a short-range aircraft can save airlines up to $ 100 in fuel costs. If composites brackets can remove 100 kgs of weight, an airline with 500 short-range aircraft could save up to $ 5 million annually by making the switch from traditional metal [Plastics Today]. Apart from a five-fold higher fatigue strength, added advantages over metal are vibration and noise dampening improvements.



The shale boom in the U.S. has left the world’s largest economy awash in the power source which is used by utilities to generate nearly 25% of U.S. electricity [CNBC]. Utilities have traditionally used coal to generate electricity. But the abundance of relatively inexpensive natural gas has given power operators an incentive to shift away from coal. Energy markets continue to converge bringing the crude oil/natural gas ratio to 20:1 – the tightest ratio since January 2011. Even a year back, it was around 51:1 [Plastics Today]. Lyondell Basell’s recent announcement of expansion plans for 1.2 billion pounds of new PE capacity in North America has made it the sixth PE maker to announce plans for new PE capacity  joining Chevron, Nova, Formosa, Dow and Exxon Mobil – such has been the impact of the availability of abundant natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. The cumulative increase in new PE capacity by the six companies is greater than 6 billion pounds [Plastics News].

Little wonder that PE is experiencing a surge in growth and rivaling PP in several applications.

An insert molding process employing a co-polyamide adhesion promoter to bond aluminum tubing  with glass fiber reinforced polyamide 6 is being used by Mercedes Benz in several of its vehicles to derive weight savings [Plastics Today]. The aluminum tubing connects both A-pillars together and supports the entire dashboard – from the steering wheel to the glove compartment. The co-polyamide adhesion promoter covers the aluminum tubing and joins the composite holding brackets of the individual components to the tubing by an injection molding process based on melt-bonding. Component weight is drastically reduced by 20% compared to traditional joining methods such as welding/screwing together with metal connecting plates.



This one for the road…. Volkswagen is debuting a two-component injection molded, plasma coated polycarbonate side windows that provides a 33% weight saving over traditional glass windows as well as scratch resistance. The glazing provides the same visual characteristics as standard glass windows [Plastics News].

Per Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global investment in clean energy in Q1 2013 was lower than at any other quarter since 2009. From Q4 2012, global investment in clean energy plummeted 38%. In the U.S., Q1 2013 has seen a 54% drop (possibly due to late announcement of the PTC extension); Europe a 25% drop and China 15% [Oil and Energy Insider].

The grapevine on ending fuel subsidies to level the playing field could be one of the reasons. A wait and watch approach is perhaps the best recourse to green energy crusaders.



A cursory reading of this post would obviously show the emphasis on automotive, aerospace and wind energy sectors and not without reason. Currently, these market segments are the  principal growth drivers for composites almost globally, with other sectors also pitching in a measured way depending on the region. The Middle East had airline traffic gain of 15.6% year-over-year, Latin America had traffic gain of 11.8%, Asia Pacific 5.4%, Europe 3.7% and North America 2.4% – an overall growth reflecting business confidence [Forbes]. The fact that China’s growth is poised to be driven by domestic demand (rather than exports) is a welcome change and augurs well for the industry. The U.S. automotive sector appears to be on a roll with CFRP being a game changer, though the last minute renewal of the PTC for wind energy could slow down the sector in the first half, after a record 2012 performance (in terms of GW installed). Advantageous energy costs (natural gas and electricity futures) should be beneficial to glass & carbon fiber expansion plans and/or greenfield plants that are on the anvil.

2013 could well serve as the (re) launch pad for the composites industry in North America to take off yet again (after a tepid 2012) resulting in greater gains from 2014 & aided by continued focus on material substitution.The time to reap the benefits of attractive energy costs is NOW !

Tailpiece : Global consumer confidence rose in Q1 2013 – confidence improved in 60% markets globally compared to only 33% in Q4 2012, with marked increase in sentiment in the U.S., Japan and Northern Europe [Trade Arabia].

While this may invoke a smile in many, the Cassandras would probably still sulk.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Paradigm shifts – flexible approach in adaption is the key

Hello all,

At the first G20 Finance Ministers & Central Banks Governors’ meeting in Moscow in mid-February, delegates “agreed” that tail risks to the global economy have receded, coupled with improvement in financial market conditions. The caveat was the recognition that important risks remain and global growth was still too weak – a statement that is all too obvious and a stark reality !



Fears of a currency war were stoked at the G20 summit and the currency market was thrown into turmoil that same week with the G7 members issuing a joint statement warning against using domestic policy to target currencies. Following Moody’s Investor Services stripping of UK’s Triple-A rating in late February, the pound was in for further trouble in the beginning of March as it tumbled and fell below a key level of the U.S. dollar following a weak Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector, leading to speculation of the likelihood of further Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Bank of England [CNBC].

An open-ended QE in the footsteps of the U.S. and Japan ? With the euro on an eight-month high against the  greenback, has the race to the bottom begun ?



GFRP composite profiles are evolving as energy-efficient facade panels for buildings. Existing facade panels, made of aluminum profiles with embedded polyamide thermal breaks have thick wall constructions and meet only the lowest limits of building regulations. The new GFRP pultruded composite panels with vinyl ester resin replace the polyamide thermal breaks and part of the aluminum. It has the requisite aesthetics, displays lower thermal conductivity and better insulation, whilst simultaneously maintaining mechanical properties in view of the aluminum/composite combination [Pipe and Profile Extrusion].

Competing materials can be complementary.. that’s the name of the technology game.

Manufacturing of thermoplastic composites based on textile preforms made from hybrid yarns is well suited for the production of FRP in medium and large scale production runs. The consolidation of thermoplastic FRP is currently complicated by the high viscosity of molten material. Woven multilayered and Z – reinforced non-crimped fiber preforms can facilitate FRP withstand three-dimensional loading and impact stress [Sciencia]. Such preforms with Z-directional reinforcement improve the FRP delamination behavior and out-of-plane characteristics. This concept holds immense potential in a wide range of composite applications.

Z may be the last alphabet……but allow the designers’ imagination to run riot on its geometry and possibilities are endless for improvement in mechanical properties of composites. Last, but not the least (effective) ?



A new polyurethane based glass fiber sandwich material has been developed for an enclosure that houses a diesel train’s engine, thereby saving weight and cost over its steel and aluminum counterpart. The enclosure, normally located underneath the passenger compartment must withstand high mechanical loads to support all that weight as well as protect the engine from impact apart from also providing chemical resistance to prevent oil leaks and conformance to strict European fire protection requirements [Design News]. Parts are made with a honeycomb core and manufactured  directly in their final complex three-dimensional shape using a much faster combined spray and press process. The new material’s honeycomb core is covered on its top and bottom with glass fiber mats, then sprayed with polyurethane containing a flame retardant and (optionally) chopped glass fibers. The component is then placed in a compression mold while still moist and pressed at  a temperature of 130°C. The polyurethane foams and binds the components together. The parts can be removed from the mold after two minutes and deburred [Bayer Material Science]. Other potential applications for the material are roof segments, side flaps and wind deflectors for automobiles and commercial applications.

A new form of sandwich construction that breaks away from traditional glass fiber reinforced epoxy/polyester resin facings and rigid foam cores – technological breakthrough at its best.



Is wind power competitive with fossil fuels ? This has been a raging topic awhile and technological advances resulting in bigger, smarter wind turbines are taking the wind out of naysayers’ sails. Lending credence, aside other factors was the latest research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (in February) that electricity could now be supplied from a new wind farm in Australia at AUS$ 80/Mwh compared to $143 for a new coal plant or $ 116 from a new baseload natural gas plant [Think Progress]. Both EWEA and GWEC concur that onshore wind power is competitive once all costs that affect traditional energy sources – such as fuel and CO2 costs, effects on environment and health are considered. Factoring CO2 costs alone, if a cost of € 30 per tonne of CO2 emitted was applied to power produced, onshore wind energy would be the cheapest source of new power generation in Europe [Renewable Energy World]. The approach is to increase the swept area by 23-37% (by increasing rotor diameter) with a view to increasing energy yields by up to 31%. Increasing the size of wind turbine blades  and making the tower taller, allow a turbine to capture more wind, especially at low speeds.

Longer blades translate into more glass/carbon fiber….the whoosh sound transforms to music to fiber producers as they sharpen their pencils to draft new plans to augment capacity in due course !



Technical textiles (fabrics) are gaining in importance globally and their uses are becoming even more diverse. Sewing threads are hence challenged not only to sew material together, but to produce a seam that will not breakdown in the extreme environments that fabrics encounter in service. For sewing situations requiring heat resistance between 555°C  to 815°C, glass fiber threads are ideal. For higher temperatures, these may be twisted with stainless steel [Innovation in Textiles]. For lubrication, they can be coated with PTFE. For high temperature applications, aramid/steel sewing threads with a steel core is recommended. For certain high performance thermal engineering, sports surfaces and filtration, a 100% stainless steel sewing thread is available. Carbon fiber is also used for specific end uses. Sewing threads made from 70% alumina and 30% silica have a melting point of 1880°C and are useable up to 1300-1400°C. Very fine continuous filament pure fused silica is used to produce one of the strongest and most temperature and chemically resistant threads. A PTFE encapsulation enhances the thread resistance to build-up of contaminants and repeals attack by most acids and alkalis, whilst improving handling characteristics and abrasion resistance. The thread will not support combustion and will resist temperatures up to 1093°C.

A case of “horses for courses” in choice of appropriate sewing threads for (textile) fabrics/applications ?



We receive news from newspapers, the web, TV, phones. Welcome to receiving news on Wi-Fi ready GFRP trash bins that have been introduced in the city of London under a 21-year contract with the authority ! The newspaper recycling bin which doubles as an open-air information system is made of glass fiber with toughened glass at either end and designed to withstand extreme pressures. The plastic surround is made from recycled materials and has an LCD screen on which news, weather and sports reports can be shown [Forced Green]. The pods can receive feeds within 3 minutes of being advised of a breaking news event. Its not just a place for trash – there are separated areas for paper and cans. Nearly 100 of the “hi-tech” bins have been installed in London, with a similar number planned in Wall Street (New York) where one has already been installed. Hong Kong and Singapore are next in the list of proposed installations.

The English obviously have a flair for innovation… this one should be as famous as their pubs, breakfast and tea !

Breaking news…. GE has snatched the wind installation crown from Vestas as it installed more wind turbine MW capacity by a significant margin. Vestas had been the numero uno since 2000 [Financial Times]. GE breezed past Vestas, riding on the >8GW installed in Q4, 2012 in the U.S. of the ultimate 13GW. Recall how Toyota recently regained the # 1 spot from GM in the automotive sector.

Just goes to show that the top spot in any sector is always up for grabs in a competitive world. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown ?



Polypropylene (PP) prices jumped another 6 cents/lb in February in North America – a 22% increase since the New Year [Plastics News]. Propylene availability continued to be the main reason for the steep hike in PP price. The increasing use of natural gas based ethane as feedstock (in lieu of conventional naphtha) has diminished propylene supply. This trend is likely to continue at least till 2015 when the propane dehydrogenation route for propylene becomes a commercial reality through two plants proposed to be constructed. North American PP is expected to lose 12% of its demand to HDPE and polystyrene.

What does this portend for LFRT that uses PP in automotive applications ?

The European Union’s end-of-life vehicle (ELV) requirements is pushing European automakers to adopt revolutionary materials. SABIC has developed a post-industrial recycled (PIR) grade of a blend of polyamide (PA) and  modified polyphenyl ether(PPE) polymers for the bumpers of Renault’s 2013 Clio IV model that can withstand the temperatures used in automotive paint lines whilst also demonstrating strong chemical and impact resistance. The new PIR grade which is sourced from body panels, meets the required automotive quality and performance standards & reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 47% over the life cycle of the fender, compared to steel.

The principal reasons for success in increasing use of polymers and composites in automotive applications stems from a single-minded approach in adhering to regional regulations in recycling, environmental norms whilst conforming to safety and mechanical properties of various components.



If you are an iPhone buff + a tea/coffee addict (and there are several in this category!), brace yourself for a novel invention. A Netherlands firm has designed and conceptualized the UpperCup (aka, a coffee holder) – a device that enables users to text/sms confidently with both hands without having to worry about the hot beverage picked up from Starbucks! The user just slips the hot beverage in the holder which is housed along with the iPhone case and does not have to scramble to search for a place to keep the cup down, before texting [Khaleej Times]. The product is expected to be a runaway success. Caution has to be exercised when taking incoming calls – the hot coffee can spill on the phone or in your ear!

Steve Jobs must be having the last laugh at this invention that his iPhone has created. Is Samsung listening ?



World aluminum demand is strong and increasing at 6% per annum. Currently at 40 million tonnes, the demand is poised to touch 70 million tonnes by 2020. Four of the top ten aluminum producers in the world are from West Asia (Gulf region) and will account for 15 % of the world’s production by 2014. Gulf production is expected to increase to five million tonnes by 2014 [Khaleej Times]. North American and European regions are  curtailing aluminum smelter capacity due to increasing cost of operations, driven by higher energy cost.

Following the footsteps of gold, copper the red metal treaded an eight-week low in late February and is at risk of testing the October 2011 lows [CNBC]. With about 40 lbs of copper used in every car, global auto sales trends could be important in gauging where copper prices are headed. The world is watching China and the U.S. closely for trends.



Tokyo University, in collaboration with a group of leading Japanese corporations, has developed two types of low cost, high performance CFRTP prepregs for the mass production of ultra-lightweight cars that can be manufactured with fast molding cycles and are recyclable. The first product is a  discontinuous CF reinforced isotropic prepreg suitable for complex parts and the second, a continuous CF reinforced prepreg for primary structure parts such as frames. The matrix resin is primarily polypropylene (PP), though polyamide (PA) can also be used. The specially surface treated CF and modified resins provide high strength, energy absorption, formability and recyclability. Molding cycle time is under a minute. The CFRTP prepregs reportedly reduce vehicle weight by 40-70%. Their most notable feature is the ductile fracture behavior without significant delamination [Plastics Today]. It is estimated that 100kgs of CFRTP parts will equip 10 million passenger cars by 2030, thereby resulting in a potential CF demand of 1 million tonnes.

Current and potential carbon fiber wannabe manufacturers would be salivating at the prospects, though it is still a decade + away.



In my February post, I wrote about the new generation bio-polymers that would result in landfills not being an option. A world without landfills ? Not an Utopian concept, as San Francisco could possibly lead the way in becoming the first zero-waste city in the U.S. A waste-management company is working to ensure that all discarded items will be successfully recycled, reused or composted thereby rendering obsolete the need for landfills [CNBC]. The plan…soda cans to be crushed into huge blocks and sold to make more soda cans, used construction materials to be reworked and sent to new job sites and previous night’s dinner to be composted and turned into a soil nutrient that can be sold to farmers to enhance crop growth in vineyards and elsewhere.

It’s smarter to put waste back into commerce – that is the company’s motto. The future of garbage is …… no garbage, making the world a cleaner, better living place in the long run.

Tailpiece…. is Coca-Cola developing a beauty drink with a French drugmaker, that reportedly can strengthen hair, improve skin and help with weight loss [The Daily Meal] ? Per the Wall Street Journal, the drink will be a blend of mineral water, fruit juice and nutrition additives.

Readers may want to research this topic further ?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Polymeric Composites……benefiting from Bio (resins) Evolution

Hello again,

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Till then,


S. Sundaram



Polymeric Composites seemingly on a roll….despite market mayhem

Hello everyone,

Is your finger on the panic button ?


The heat is on in more ways than one – the question uppermost in many minds is whether the summer of 2012 has ominous overtones reminiscent of 2008. Should the eurozone prepare an emergency plan? Would events in Greece trigger financial fright in Spain, Italy and across the eurozone, pushing Europe into a danger zone [Financial Times] ? Are we likely to witness printing of the drachma yet again?  The U.S. which appeared to be coasting along, surprisingly witnessed weak job gains in May – speculations are rife that the economy may be slowing, likening it to the third sequel to a summer horror movie, following two summers of a double dip scare [CNBC]. The fact that there have been definite pointers to the slowdown in China’s manufacturing and growth coupled with a lower-than-expected weak growth in India’s GDP in Q1 lends credence to the possibility of a global economic slowdown.

Are we better off in being less indulgent on crystal ball gazing and just embracing events as they unfold so that no shock is greater than it’s predecessor? Seems logical.


The spate of price increases announced by thermoset resin producers in early Q2, was followed by a couple of leading glass fiber producers announcing price hikes  to the tune of 5-7 % with the justified rhetoric of the need to re-invest in capital intensive glass fiber manufacturing. Platinum has a major role in this investment with prices heading south and off it’s 2012 high. Though a tad shy of the $1500 mark, it is expected to end the year at $1700. Another precious metal, gold appears to be having an identity crisis with a fourth straight monthly decline, attributed largely to the liquidity problems and global cash crunch crisis [Yahoo Finance].

If you thought that gold was a safe haven……


Composites account for 53% of materials in the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body), aluminum for 19% and steel for 14%. In a classic example of metal substitution, stamp formed clips made in carbon fabric reinforced PPS (Polyphenylene Sulfide) thermoplastic sheet (made by a unique folding process over three axes !) substitute as much as 3.5 million small aluminum parts. The clips are for the upper shell of the A350 and hold the aircraft’s frame to the stringer, over which a CFRP skin is applied [Plastics News]. The patented stamping process cuts parts weight by 40-50%. The 13-meter long four-paneled fuselage segment is also in CFRP.

Flying light while flying high has exponential benefits as travellers would readily agree.


Closer to earth, composite bogie frames (railway sector) made of woven glass fabrics and epoxy resin have been successfully developed by the Korean Railroad Research Institute [KRRI]. Compared to conventional steel frames, a 30% weight saving corresponding to 635kgs  is reported to have been achieved. The bogie frame in railway rolling stock supports heavy static and dynamic loads such as vertical load exerted by the body of vehicle, braking and accelerating loads, twisting load induced by track twisting/turning and traction loads. Reduction of axle load is a key objective as one aspires to develop high-speed and high-capacity trains. The GFRP bogie frame has reportedly passed fatigue tests under a repeated loading of 107 cycles. This development has the potential for 6,000 subway trains with 10 carriages each to be equipped with the GFRP bogie  frame in Korea [Plastics Today].

The GCC countries are forging ahead with railway projects worth $103 billion linking the six Gulf nations and spanning 2,200kms. An era in the making where composite bogie frames can dominate the rail sector as the preferred material of construction ?

Sandvik’s double belt isobaric (constant pressure) and isochoric (consistent press gap) presses enable pressure, heating and cooling incorporation in a single continuous process with short cycles, thereby improving productivity. The presses are used in production of carbon and glass fiber based prepregs and for the compression of glass fiber/carbon fiber mat, web or cross-ply with thermoplastics. Isobaric presses are ideal  for production of thin products and composites. Isochoric presses are used for sheet casting (artificial stones, marble tiles), sheet molding and laminating applications.


An Australian-designed-and built FR-1 concept roadster features a monocoque cockpit chassis “molded out-of-autoclave ” at a temperature of only 70C using an epoxy prepreg with a 200grams/sq met carbon fiber fabric [Plastics Today]. Measuring 2 met x 1.5 met, the chassis weighs only 80kgs while still providing the required high torsional rigidity. Mitsubishi Chemical  exhibited a concept vehicle at Chinaplas 2012 employing a CFRP composite (with epoxy resin) in the body with a low co-efficient of thermal expansion on par with aluminum and weighing just 490kgs. CF reinforced thermoplastics is also under consideration. A glass mat thermoplastic foam is used in the underbody of the car, while an aluminum-plastic composite is used where heat dissipation is required.

Cost may be less of a consideration for concept vehicles when it comes to lightweight materials. However it is the design considerations, choice of materials and processing characteristics that lend to extrapolation of the concept to conventional sedans.

A new high-impact semi-rigid grade of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) as a cost-effective alternative to thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) and thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs) can now be used for trim rings and panels for electronic consumer products and transportation equipment as well as interior instrumentation where durability, abrasion resistance and impact isolation are also required. The new TPE is claimed to perform well in part designs that require various screw bosses and gusset-reinforced screw boss designs and also finds use in applications that require rubber-like properties, impact resistance, colorability and good surface finish [Plastics Today].


Chemical coupling has been in vogue for decades especially for non-polar thermoplastics such as PP and PE with the prime objective of improving adhesion. Efforts to improve properties of short glass fiber reinforced PP continue unabated. Asahi Kasei Plastics claims that it’s special short glass fiber reinforced grades have advanced chemical coupling technology that can replace LFRT  with potential use in door modules, motor housings, sunroof frames and can also be an effective high-temperature resistant alternative to polyamide 6 & 6/6 for air-intake manifolds and under-the-hood automotive applications.

The battle lines are clearly drawn between short and long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics – may the better product win depending on the application and performance.


Global installed wind power capacity continued to grow in 2011, albeit at a slightly lower rate than in 2009 and 2010. China led the way with a 43% share of global capacity additions in 2011, followed by the U.S. at 17%, India with 5% and Germany at 5%. The Levelized Cost of Electricity(LCOE) is often used as the barometer to estimate cost of electricity the utility way. It is the average cost over the lifespan of the project, initial investment + operation and maintenance costs,not including externalities. The cost of electricity generated from wind is currently at record lows. Several  projects in high resource areas such as U.S., Brazil, Sweden, Mexico display a LCOE (excluding impact of subsidies, but after including cost of capital and maintenance) below $ 68/MWh. The comparison in $/KWh translates to less than $0.068/KWh for wind, $0.067/KWh for coal and $0.056/KWh for gas-fired power. LCOE for wind projects are often based on a 20-year lifetime for wind turbines [Clean Technica]. Although the U.S. lags behind Europe and China in offshore wind power capacity, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to make available $180 million over the next six years to support up to four innovative wind farms off the coasts or in the Great Lakes.

Apparently, offshore wind power (in the >4MW/turbine range) is the future. It makes no difference to composites as, in any case, carbon and glass fibers (possibly in that order of priority) would be used for the turbine blades.


Shale-gas revolution in the U.S. has resulted in record natural gas price lows (as reported in earlier posts). This should translate into more ethylene in the future. Exxon‘s latest announcement [Plastics News] of its expansion plans that involve a new ethane cracker (with natural gas as feedstock) follows that by Dow a few months earlier. Plastics and chemicals are poised for a big boost with the success of shale gas fracking technology.

North American prices for PE, PP and PVC tumbled in May due to a dual combination of uncertain demand scenario & increasing feedstock supplies, in sharp contrast to Q1. The grapevine indicates a further drop in PP price in June.

Volatility in thermoplastics pricing ? That would be an understatement !


Metals such as copper and aluminum are in for a torrid time. Copper prices dipped 12% in May. The fact that China, the world’s largest producer of aluminum has idled almost a million metric tons of production in it’s top producing province says it all. Aluminum prices have also dropped significantly. Norsk Hydro latest announcement last week of closure of a smelter in Australia has added to the metal’s woes [CNBC].

First it was copper and now aluminum, not to mention precious metals (gold, platinum). What’s happening  to the metals’ market ? Composites, however, are known for their “resilience”  and there is less cause for concern on the price front, hopefully.


With increasing use of  CFRP, post-finishing operations can be less of a hassle by adopting faster, flexible technologies such as laser cutting in spite of the challenges faced with the anisotropic and heterogeneous features of  the composite. Tests on the cut performance of a 3mm CFRP sheet using CO2 laser cutting machine (widely used in metal cutting) showed cuts with a minimum heat affected zone (about 540 micron meter) in pulsed mode. In consequence, the CFRP strength remains practically unaffected compared to more conventional mechanical machining [Sciencia].


Plans are afoot to construct a luxury underwater hotel in Dubai to provide travelers closer and better ocean views [Bloomberg Businessweek]. Described as Dubai’s extravagance, the hotel would be surrounded by a coral reef with large windows and an underwater diving center. Rooms would be 10 meters below the surface and the hotel can rotate. Designed as if it were a ship rather than a building, a large disc-shaped structure above the water will have a spa, garden and upper-terrace swimming pool for guests who do not want to be in the ocean.

A penny (nay dollar!) for your thoughts on possible components in composites ? Dream big and deep !

If you fancy something different than the standard Magic Mouse from Apple, try the carbon fiber Magic Mouse (available only in the U.S.) that will set you back $99 [Composites Today].

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Leading-edge Technologies….satiating Competitive markets & Customer demands

Hello everyone,

We have just got past Q1, 2012.


Without doubt, the driver has clearly been stock markets with the Dow breaching the magical 13,000 mark and indices in other regions also doing well. The global prediction for Q1 may not have hit the bulls eye; but was not way off the mark either. As we brace ourselves for Q2, a factor that stands out has been rising prices ….be it food, gasoline, plastics or raw materials for composites – this is almost a universal phenomenon. How long will this continue ? Looks like at least into H1,2012, going by current trends; though the Cassandras would opine that it would extend deep into Q3.


In recent times, one fundamental reason for increasing use of composites in structural applications has been the continuous work by ASTM, ACMAEuropean Committee for Standardization and other bodies in developing Standards and Codes of Practice for structures that will be subjected to cyclic loading. This calls for an understanding of fatigue response. The ASTM D30 International Committee on Composites Materials informs that a new Standard ASTM D7615/D7615M provides guidelines for development of open-hole fatigue data for material specifications. It is expected to help the industry in determination of fatigue properties of open-hole composite laminates [Composites World]. Designers could thus be less conservative in providing a factor of safety, thereby paving the way for more economical designs without compromising on performance & safety.


It appears that we are in for a carbon fiber revolution. Applications abound by the day. Blackberry has revealed a one-of-a kind carbon fiber and titanium-clad Porsche Design smartphone described as “engineered luxury at its best”. Sunglasses [Kolstom] made of compression molded carbon fiber with scratch resistant lenses are making waves as it is considered unbreakable (even if one accidently sits on it !). An advanced hinge technique that acts more like a spring is considered the Achilles’ heel of the sunglasses – though admirers dismiss it as a no-brainer !

If you thought that carbon fiber is  more relevant to the exotic aerospace, infrastructure & automotive applications, think again. Product designers’ minds are always working overtime on such novelties !

But, hey….. we are not done yet with CFRP in this post. Processing carbon fiber reinforced plastics using laser in large scale production is an exciting development on the anvil. Composites are inherently inhomogeneous (unlike metals). In the event of incorrect process control, the high heat conductivity of CF in CFRP and differing properties of the fiber and plastic can result in serious damage to the plastic matrix. The challenge for laser processing lies in achieving the highest possible surface effectiveness at a homogeneous energy input for large components. The technique focuses on efficient diode lasers when processing composites which are currently manufactured up to 15,000W and corresponding optics.

If you would like to see the technique in action, visit Lasys 2012 at Stuttgart, Germany in June.


Touted as one of the largest uses of GFRP in civil infrastructure to date, the 2.4- mile elevated Metrorail extension near Miami International Airport, Florida has used composite rebar for the project. The contact rail provides power to the transit vehicle and the running rail acts as the negative return for the power. Corrosion of the reinforcing steel was a concern due to stray currents. Previously, the reinforcement in the deck of the guideway girders was welded to create a grounded grid. With steel, during an electrical short at one location, the grid can become energized when current passes from the reinforcement to the rail fasteners at a few locations, causing damage to some of the systems equipment. To address this issue, an isolation system was chosen using GFRP bars to prevent this type of damage. Testing is currently in progress at the culmination of installation on the 3-year project. There are several  metro rail projects at various stages of implementation in Europe & Asia Pacific. Authorities could perhaps take a cue on choice of GFRP rebar to provide electrical isolation in an elevated high-voltage rail system.

Can there be a more effective, practical way to demonstrate superiority of composites over metal ? Proof of the pudding…….

Scintillators are the core material used in radiation detectors and medical equipment and have generally been made with special plastics containing fluorescent agents. Teijin, Japan now offers a low-cost, easily moldable polyester resin alternative that is superior to conventional scintillators in terms of luminescence, refractive index and density [European Plastics News].


Ever heard of plastics that bleed when cut or scratched, thereby mimicking the human skin? A new genre of plastics with warn and self-repair capabilities could well be the answer to scratches in cell phones, laptops, cars. The water-based plastic (eco-friendly!) has small molecular links spanning the long chain of chemicals that compose the plastic. When scratched or cracked, these links break and change shape – the shape changes trigger a visible color change in the form of a red splotch that forms round the defect. In the presence of normal sunlight or visible light from a bulb, pH changes or temperature; the bridges re-form, healing the damage and erasing the red mark [R&D].

Fascinating prospects indeed….no wonder, self-healing plastics have become a Holy Grail of Materials Science !!

Interface between resin and glass fibers and increase in glass fiber orientation can drastically affect mechanical properties of composites. Compared with steady-state injection molding, deploying screw-axial vibration force field has been found to positively impact orientation and distribution state of short glass fibers (chopped strands) and the distribution state of interfacial modifiers [Sciencia]. Tests with short glass fibers for reinforcement of HDPE showed a significant improvement in tensile and impact strength. Could this be a trendsetter for other  glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics also ?


The wind power industry experienced a strong 2011, bringing online over 40GW – an almost 20% year on year growth over 2010 [Offshore Wind]. In it’s latest Energy Outlook report, BP predicts the renewable energy sector, including biofuels will grow at an average of 8% per year through to 2030 and that it will far outpace natural gas, the fastest growing fossil fuel, which is expected to expand at 2% a year. As a result; the report claims, global CO2 emissions will rise by 28% over the next two decades [Greenbiz]. While Europe has been targeting  a 20% carbon reduction target by 2020, Denmark is all set to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020. It also aims to supply 35% of its total energy from renewables, with half of its electricity through wind farms. The nation has set it’s sights on supplying 100% energy from renewables by 2050. A pipe dream? No way, if one considers Denmark’s enviable track record of achieving its objectives through meticuluous planning and steadfast implementation.


Thermoplastic (polyolefinic) and thermoset resins witnessed an upward trend in prices – the latter, no doubt, being driven by increase in crude oil price and resin majors in NA and Europe announcing price hikes. Surprisingly, Polyethylene price in NA witnesssed an upward trend in spite of the fact that it uses natural gas based ethane as feedstock rather than crude oil [Plastics News]. Make hay while the sun shines ?


The March announcement of a $14.2 million grant by the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] to accelerate the deployment and development of stronger and lighter materials for advanced vehicles will serve as a fillip to composites.The fact that “predictive molding of CFRP” will be one of the specific areas of research should be of interest, since CFRP has been described as having the potential of saving up to 50 %  component weight vis-a-vis steel [Science and Environmental]. Little wonder that SGL has already announced increase of its CF capacity in Moses Lake, Washington through an additional line.

The collaborative ventures between global auto majors and leading carbon fiber producers are not without reason and have synergistic success written all over.

Most of us start the day with a hot beverage (coffee or tea). Beverage packaging may be in for a revolution of sorts….would it not be wonderful to know whether the coffee/tea in your plastic cup is hot or cold just by a glance?Developed in Australia, the disposable color changing HIPS (high impact polystyrene) lid changes in color from dark to bright red with the application of heat. As the beverage cools, the color of the lid changes to the regular starting color – from red initially, when it is hot ! A food grade compliant color changing additive meeting FDA and EU requirements makes all the difference. Very soon, an UK distributor will introduce the lid into the food service, healthcare and airline sectors throughout Europe [British Plastics].

A plastic lid that wakes up and smells the coffee ? That’s what this revolutionary design is all about !


The Middle East region is showing definite signs of breaking the shackles and emerging from the downturn. Hotel occupancy rates in the GCC are on the rise. Not surprisingly, the 355 meter JW Marriott Marquis Dubai will become the world’s tallest hotel when it opens in Q4,2012 [Arabian Business].  It is a tad shorter (26 meters to be precise) than the Empire State Building in New York. A prime objective of the hotel is to target business travellers and the growing MICE market.


ESSJAY is enthused by the fact that this blog  is now viewed by readers in 67 countries across all continents.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Game-changing Market Trends…..Catalyzed by Materials Science Advances

Hello again and welcome to another post,

At the outset, I wish readers A Happy & Prosperous 2012 !


As we usher in the New Year with cautious optimism (bordering on trepidation, for some ?) of the global economy, it would perhaps be prudent to focus on each Quarter at a time. December 2011 was a mixed bag of sorts with the major surprise being the possible renaissance of the U.S. economy through a slight jump in manufacturing activity and hence predictions of a relatively strong Q1. Asian factory output remained sluggish in December with China, Korea, Taiwan registering weak industrial activity. Economic pundits state that the eurozone is already in a recession that could extend through Q2,2012.

2012 could well be termed the year of M&A (Mergers & Acquisitions) as industries across a broad spectrum could  witness consolidation. We have already seen the beginning of this trend from Q3, 2011 in the plastics and composites sector which could gather further momentum in the coming months. Capacity expansion through organic growth would still continue; albeit at a relatively slower pace, from a M&A perspective.


“Faster than a speeding bullet” was the screaming Dec 27 headline [Mail Online] heralding China’s super-speed train scorching speeds up to 300mph (100mph quicker than its current bullet train), reportedly made possible by liberal use of lightweight CFRP. The spate of  announcements related to the carbon fiber industry…be it related to new JVs for the  fiber or downstream units by auto majors jointly with carbon fiber producers adds credence to the growing demand for CF in automotive, aerospace and infrastructure (offshore wind energy, CNG tanks….). Weight reduction is of paramount importance and carbon fiber could well emerge as the material of choice this decade for high-end applications where premium is on performance (superior mechanical properties vis-a-vis glass fiber).


The forecast for the automotive sector this year is that electric vehicles (includes hybrids) will be more widely available than ever. It is also predicted that this could be the year where mass market vehicles adopt CFRP parts [Plastics Today]. We heard the news at IAA 2011 on the development and successful commercialization of a 33% GF reinforced polyamide 66 lithium ion battery module frame for GM‘s hybrid extended range electric drive cars [European Plastics News]. The composite frames support and align the battery cells. Replacement of metal battery housings by plastics is the new trend. The low thermal conductivity of plastics eliminates the foam sheet sheet thermal insulation required for metal housings. Connectors integrated in the housing provide a thermal barrier, protecting batteries from overheating while charging and against cold temperatures in the winter.

As we all realize, plastics & composites in automotive is not just about weight reduction alone…..

The concept of failure strain (elongation at break) in design of composites is well known, as also the role of the matrix in achieving this objective. Studies on hybrid composites with interplied carbon fiber reinforced polypropylene (CFRPP) between self-reinforced polypropylene (SRPP) layers have shown that the failure strain of the hybrid composite is improved in comparison with CFRPP. One of the contributing factors to improved tensile strength has been to utilize the intrinsic behavior of shrinkage under high temperatures of SRPP, to introduce a compressive pre-strain in CFRPP [Sciencia].


Relentless pursuit of technological advances continue to expand the range of applications for composites. Recent studies indicate that Polyamide 6 composites reinforced with surface-treated glass fibers and including a small amount of clay-like mineral as an inexpensive filler could yield the best performance of injection molded parts because the glass fibers enhance the mechanical properties and the clay-like filler accelerates the crystallization rate. The presence of a small amount of nucleating agent favors the isothermal crystallization rate of the reinforced polyamide. Microstructural features of the composites and interfacial interactions between filler and polyamide phases, quantified by rheological measurements served to substantiate the findings [Sciencia].


Driven by surging natural gas consumption in Asia and the U.S.( primarily due to shale gas), global use has rebounded to new highs. The world’s largest incremental increase  occurred in the U.S. where low prices (an all-time low as we speak) triggered a 1.3 trillion cubic feet increase to 24.1 trillion cubic feet – just over 1/5th of global natural gas consumption [Environmental News Network]. The Asia Pacific region experienced the strongest growth with China, India, South Korea, Taiwan experiencing demand growth of over 20 % (over 2009 levels). Sinopec’s increased stake in a U.S. energy company last week with a view to gain technology through partnerships is a recognition of China’s focus on shale gas reserves that exceed that of the U.S. Taking cognizance of this rapid shift in natural gas economics, several leading petrochemical majors have announced new plants for ethylene and industries are planning to boost fertilizer production made from gas.

The fallout…PP demand through 2015 in North America is expected to grow at less than GDP growth. Interesting  2011 stats… PP sales declined by 6.8%, while HDPE and PS grew 2.7% and 11% respectively [Plastics Engineering]. With the current natural gas pricing advantage (ethane cracking yields more ethylene !); this trend is definitely likely to continue into the foreseeable future….unless crude oil price drops dramatically!

The resin market in North America is predicted to sport a healthy look this year with distributors eyeing higher sales volumes. PE is expected to make greater inroads through technological innovations and advances in resin properties, possibly displacing PP in the process in many applications. Will LFRT applications using PP take a hit ? Only time will tell.

Significant changing market dynamics ? You bet.  


Ever considered combination of metals to result in a material with the strength of aluminum, density of steel and greater than 1.5 times the energy of TNT…. that is the new innovative revolutionary material that increases the explosive force and lethality on enemy targets. With the HDRM acronym (High Density Reactive Material); this material is designed to replace steel in warhead casings with little or no compromise in strength or design [Materials Insight].  

Innovations are not confined to lightweight plastics and composites, but the heavier stuff as well…which is required at times, necessitated by the nature of the application !

Brace yourselves for another innovative material….that matches the malleability of glass while retaining the toughness and stability of thermoset plastics. With potential applications in the aerospace and auto sectors; the material is recyclable while scratches and small breaks can be repaired by heating [Plastics News]. This unique organic material that mimics malleability of inorganic glass is being taken up for commercial production in France.

Are venture capitalists listening ?

The Word Future Energy Summit [WFES] convenes in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East later this month with a lot of discussion on renewable energy (in its various forms) in general. It would be interesting to note the valedictory comments at the conclusion of the Summit and the message that it conveys.


I end this post with people referring to the Mayan calendar’s prophecy of the world ending in 2012. The Cassandras may be pitching for it; but much will depend on policymakers’ (politicians’) response. As a noted economist recently pointed out that “politicians should get out in front…right now they are running behind”.

Apocalypse and end of the world….Bah !

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Composites & Plastics – Foraying further into Metals domain

Hello everyone,

I write the opening para of this post wearing my economist hat and in a pensive mood on the happenings in 2011.

  Q1, 2012 – light at end of tunnel ?

Per recent column in CNBC, “the world economy is on a slippery slope with the eurozone appearing to have tipped into a mild recession and the rest of the global economy struggling to hold on to firm ground. China is slowing, Japan’s exports are tumbling. The U.S. Q3 growth was revised to 2.0%, though a stronger Q4 is forecast”. The OECD has similar warnings of an European recession. It’s report revised global economic growth down to 3.8 % this year and 3.4 % in 2012.

Would even the die-hard optimistic economist sport a wry smile ? Close call….

Metals & Composites – clash of the Titans !

Composites outperforming aluminum and vice – versa always merits industry’s riveting attention. The announcement of commercial lightweight aluminum alloys last summer was news to designers on exciting options for potential and existing applications in different market sectors. The recent introduction of a 30% carbon fiber reinforced polyamide (Nylon 66) motorcycle engine cover at the IPF show in Japan was a revelation, insofar it was a replacement for an aluminum piece.The composite weighed 130 grams versus 263 grams for the traditional aluminum counterpart and outmassed even a magnesium alternative [Plastics Today]. The resultant tensile strength of 250MPa which was on par or even better, lay in preserving the length/ integrity of the 7 – 8 mm long CF used in the injection molding process [IPF].

 Composites supremacy over Metals…one upmanship

Composite access covers could emerge as the material of choice in the UK (currently more than 10 million access covers in use & generally in metal). These covers are placed at points where utility companies need to change the direction of pipes and drainage – usually at corners and often on the crown of the road [Construction News Portal]. Worn, cracked, displaced or pilfered metal access covers pose a hazard to motorcyclists in terms of stability and traction, especially when the road is wet. Composite covers have the advantage of  anti-slip properties remaining at consistently high levels throughout the cover’s life. The manner in which the aggregate is impregnated in the mix results in the composite cover having the added advantage of a tread pattern which is omni-directional; so it cannot be approached from an angle that diminishes grip level. The Motorcycle Action Group [MAG] is actively promoting the “Get a Grip” campaign that could possibly promote greater use of composite covers.

Are SMC/BMC processors and glass fiber producers listening?

  Thermoplastics – untiring & to the fore !

The thermoplastics sector received a fillip on the opening day of December with Bridgestone Corp. announcing a prototype non-pneumatic car tire that uses thermoplastic ribs (with a higher aspect ratio than earlier versions from others) as load bearing elements. Even the tread is made of a thermoplastic material and the material is claimed to be easier to recycle [Plastics News].

More news on the automotive front…. combining the advantages of classic SAN co-polymer with improved temperature and weathering resistance has resulted in a modified SAN with higher HDT (heat deflection temperature), greater transparency and gloss than PMMA. The modified SAN, which is an amorphous plastic; is also claimed to be chemically resistant, stiff and resistant to scratches & lends itself to exterior applications such as mirror bodies, spoilers, decorative trim and in vehicle interiors such as frames and radio face plates [Plastics Today].

The moral of such developments.. automotive is not just about lightweighting, but the accompanying paraphernalia too ! 

Fight global warming… focus on wind energy

Amsterdam was in the news last week…it hosted the  EWEA 2011 Offshore Wind Energy Conference. The timing could not have been more opportune, considering the giant strides being taken in this sector. According to EWEA, over 141 GW of offshore wind energy capacity (enough to provide 13.1% of Europe’s total electricity production)  is built, under construction, or planned in Europe; compared to the 4GW installed today. The potential risk of a high-voltage subsea cable shortage over the next few years is being addressed…trust the EU to tackle this effectively. Did they not plan for the Supergrid well in advance ?

Carbon fiber and thermoset resin producers would be rubbing their hands in glee at the projected GW of offshore wind energy.

Epoxies : eternally reliable

Epoxy functional group modifiers have been reported to improve the mechanical properties of short glass fiber reinforced PBT. Morphological observations  by SEM reveal a thin layer of polymer adhering to the surface of glass fibers, indicating that epoxy functional group reacts with fiber surface and PBT matrix[Sciencia].

PP resin prices dipped in both the U.S. and Europe in November. Unlike the U.S. however, demand in Europe was at more normal levels as converters returned to rebuild inventories. Demand for propylene derivatives such as acrylonitrile remained weak in the U.S. Further PP pricing volatility in the U.S. has created opportunities for HDPE and polystyrene.Titanium dioxide price continues to be firm and the pigment industry has entered a period of renewed profitability with further price increases on the anvil in 2012.

Welcome to the northward pricebound elite club…much to the chagrin of plastics processors and compounders.

Transition time –  Metals to Plastics

As NA and Europe brace for a cold winter, news of the commercial development of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) snow chains (in lieu of metal) is something to cheer about. The most treacherous winter driving requires placement of metal chains on cars and truck tires beneath the treads, forcing drivers to kneel in frozen muck. TPU facilitates a plastic alternative that eases installation ( light weight) and offering outstanding wear [Plastics Today]. Another star to TPU’s proven & inherent wear resistance characteristic.

The next generation batteries and shock absorbers may well be made of a material [developed at the University of Carolina] that is 100 times lighter than polystyrene foam with extraordinary high energy absorption properties. The substance is made of tiny hollow metallic tubes arranged into a micro-lattice..a criss-crossing diagonal pattern with small open spaces between the tubes. The resulting material has a density of just 0.9mg/cc compared to silica aerogel (1.0mg/cc). The material’s strength is derived from the ordered nature of the lattice design that consists of 99.99 % air and 0.01 % solids [BBC News/Technology].

A concept even difficult to imagine? Maybe so; but the commercial prospects in practical applications, if and when that hurdle is crossed, seem fascinating.

It is with a sense of pride and satisfaction that we at Essjay Composites sign off this holiday season… our readership now spans 25 countries and across all continents, embracing the polymers and composites fraternity worldwide.

We will be back with our next post on January 9, 2012.

Till then…

Happy Holidays !

S. Sundaram

Winds of Change – Blowing strong for Polymers & Composites

Hello again,

The stock market crests and troughs have left most of us bewildered and bemused as to what factors really drive the rollercoaster trends. Undoubtedly, the eurozone has been the focus in recent times. The G20 leaders ended their summit with a communique that spoke of plans to boost growth and rebalance the global economy. Political rhetoric ?


GDP grew in most countries in Europe in H1 2011 in spite of marked differences in performance, with Germany being the most sprightly. But sluggish growth and the prospect of renewed recession means  joblessness could be rising again in Britain & Germany [The Economist].

The U.S. economy on the other hand continues to flummox economists with the common man swinging between despair and hope depending on the  tidings of the weekly stats. The latest weekly update indicates light at the end of the tunnel -however seemingly distant it may be. A faint glimmer of hope that manufacturing activity is witnessing a renaissance ? Let’s hope so !


At its October meeting, the American Concrete Institute Committee 440 (FRP) updated design examples for the design guidelines for FRP rebar reinforcement of concrete, test protocols for durability assessment of FRP products in concrete and a state-of-the practice document on use of stay-in-place structural formwork used for bridge decks [ACMA]. Such updates should be beneficial to the construction sector at large and provide a greater degree of confidence to designers and architects worldwide.


With global demand for carbon fiber on an upward trajectory; developments on PAN precursor continue unabated.Latest studies indicate positive results in coating modification of PAN fibers with boric acid to enhance the controllability of the oxidation stabilization process. Microscopic analyses showed that the coating was effective to avoid skin – core heterogeneity on the cross section apart from boric acid tending to act as a cross-linking agent leading to formation of uniform oxidized structures favorable for enhanced tensile properties of carbon fiber [Sciencia].

Do such positive results ring a bell for composites veterans….similar to what the glass fiber industry witnessed for decades on  progressive enhancement of mechanicals through sustained  development work ? Therein lies the challenge for researchers in the field of composites.

Metals, in general and stainless steel, in particular  are not about to give in to composites that easily! Recent studies indicate that implantation of Titanium ion avoids intergranular corrosion and mitigates pitting on 316SS as the outer surface becomes completely amorphized, thereby avoiding localized corrosion [Sciencia]. This should be great news for designers as they now have more options in the choice of materials…no wonder Material Sciences is attracting so much attention and drawing students in droves.

Hitherto, the use of fragrance in plastics has been limited, as traditional technologies using EVA particles find it difficult to withstand temperatures of 200C plus. Not so anymore… spherical particle technology offers more robust ways to add complex fragrances to thermoplastics at 280C processing temperatures without issues [Compounding World]. Better still, this innovative technology controls the release of fragrance from the finished polymer for in excess of 18 months.The spherical particles are reportedly a co-polymer produced by polycondensation of methyl pyrrole and squaric acid.

Will plastics with a ( sweet smelling) fragrance be a commercial reality ? Let’s hope so…the script has been written !


Though financial turmoil weighs on the global economy, chemical makers are more cautious than earlier this year, but there are no signs of a major downturn [Chemical Week]. Some of the demand slowdown reflects inventory adjustments as lower energy and feedstock costs and uncertainty push buyers and consumers to more defensive positions. Though inventories are being squeezed, producers say underlying demand and orders are holding, albeit at a more subdued pace than early 2011. An analysis of PP, PE, styrene, PC, thermoset resin price trends reflect the aforesaid market sentiments.

The potential opportunities that polymers & composites offer the automotive industry are widely recognized. The thumb rule is that a 10% reduction in vehicle weight increase fuel efficiency ( and reduces reduces emissions) by 6-8%. The increased interest in multifunctional components  is calling for new material solutions that can accommodate actions such as thermal/vibration energy harvesting (an efficient energy harvesting system is estimated to have the potential to generate 10% fuel saving), active NVH control or conductive surfaces to remove physical wiring. These new materials are either polymeric in structure or need to be embedded in a polymer matrix to be  turned into cost-effective and usable components in automotive parlance [Injection World]. Future structural applications could witness a glass fiber-reinforced polyolefin with a steel tubing structure or developing TPO combined with SMC for car doors and liftgates [Plastics News].


The automotive glazing market is poised to witness a major shift to Polycarbonate (PC) from traditional glass resulting in a weight saving of around 20%. A new hard coat system that will further improve the scratch resistance and UV protection of PC is a major reason for the successful switch in many European & Japanese cars from 2012[Teijin]. The glazing concept is likely to extend to high gloss or transparent body components in vehicles in the next five years. PC’s growing popularity received another shot in the arm with Shell announcing its low cost, greener process for making Diphenyl carbonate (DPC) – a key intermediate for producing PC [Chemical Week].


For the wind energy sector, the winds of change appear to be blowing stronger than ever ( pun intended). According to a recent study, the market for advanced composites is set to grow @16% per annum through 2020… the difference being, that, while aerospace has been the biggest consumer of new structural materials; wind turbines will replace the industry as the leading advanced composites market, owing to the growth of global offshore installations. By 2020, wind is expected to account for $15.4 billion in advanced composites compared to just $6.3 billion for aerospace [Aviation & Aerospace News].

Little wonder that the CF market is headed for a golden decade and flying sky high (Boeing 787 and Airbus 350) whilst simultaneously funneling winds of change in the ocean through massive turbines.

Are composites in general and CFRP in particular having the best of both worlds ? Apparently so, if one were to go by number crunching stats on commercial demand ! Raw material producers (fibers, resins) and processors should be laughing all the way to the bank from 2012-13.

Amidst the prevailing economic uncertainty, are we composites professionals not (justifiably ) entitled to bask on the bright prospects in the coming years?

The seeds of growth have been sown….it’s time to think of reaping a rich harvest !

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Paradigm Shift – Morphology to play Key Role in Polymers/Composites Design

Hello all,

European leaders at the ongoing summit meeting appear to be focusing intensely on resolving the eurozone crisis. At the same time, U.S. efforts to resolve its own imbroglio seems to be fraught with issues that tend to get more complex. With China’s industrial output temporarily losing steam (a blessing in disguise ?), the global economy is probably in the “pause” mode for the time being.

 For those who revel in crystal ball gazing, these are testing times.


The best advertisement this month on successful use of composites in the automotive sector was UPS‘s new shipment van. It was truly  “composite ” in character in that the side panels were  made from polyethylene skins with a honeycomb core for strength & stiffness; flooring was in a urethane foam core + PE panels, with rubber from recycled tires being used on rear side bumpers [Composites Manufacturing]. Vehicle weight saving was to the tune of 600 lbs. with an annual carbon footprint reduction of up to 11 Tons. The design ultimately had something for everyone…lesser dependence on fossil fuel (35% better fuel economy), environmentalists’ delight (additional outlet for recycled rubber) and thermoplastics back as a strong contender for sandwich facings.

The extensive use of carbon fiber in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner,the Airbus A350 and the military’s stealth jet fighter planes appears to be coming down to Earth with a slew of energy- saving automobiles expected to hit the roads in the next few years [Materials Insight]. In spite of the projected higher prime cost, the life-cycle-cost-benefit-analysis through energy saving is being touted a strong plus point by electric and hybrid car makers. No wonder automajors such as Toyota, Daimler, BMW are all in the fray. Global resin majors (Dow, Huntsman, BASF,  3M) are not far behind in their efforts to develop resins that have the best compatibility and processing characteristics (short molding cycle times…) to result in  CFRP parts with requisite aesthetics and mechanical properties required in service [Chemical & Engineering News].


When leading auto, resin and carbon fiber majors pool  their resources, the end result has to have success written all over.

More interesting news on CF development. Carbon fiber made from PAN with 5% acrylamide (dry-jet wet spinning process using solvent-free coagulation bath) reportedly has the highest Young’s modulus of 5.54 GPa compared with homopolymer PAN [SPE/Polymer Engineering & Science]. Will the higher modulus translate into more exotic applications for CFRP where additional stiffness is a key criterion?

Glass fiber has been the workhorse reinforcement for the composites industry spanning several decades. Carbon fiber may be the (relatively) new exciting  kid on the block, but GFRP continues to hold sway when it comes to cost-performance combine for an application. SABIC recently announced an industry first of sorts – an one-piece reusable concrete form made from long – glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite. Advantages claimed are weight reduction up to 40%, cycle times of only a few minutes plus all the added peripherals of reduced transportation & installation costs, durability for repeated use [Composites World].

For the composites industry as a whole, such exciting applications  provide the necessary adrenaline and vehicle for growth.


Polyethylene (PE) may be one of the earliest thermoplastics to be commercially launched, but it continues to make significant inroads with new grades having improved performance and potential to rival thermoset composites. This has been especially so in pipe applications. New grades (having an extremely tough molecular structure) involve improved high stress-cracking resistance in harsh conditions from freezing cold to high acidity that find extensive use in the gas sector  for pipe diameters in the 100-1200mm range. The high resistance to slow crack growth allows the latest high-speed, lower-cost techniques such as sandless bedding & no-dig installation, without risk of pipe being damaged during installation or in use [Pipe &Profile Extrusion].

Whilst thermoplastics have generally been considered versatile for non-structural applications, advancements in technology over the last decade have seen vast improvements in performance – be it plain, elastomer modified or fiber reinforced. Global demand for Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) is forecast to rise 6.3 % per year to 5.6 million Tons in 2015 aided, in part, by the ongoing push to reduce motor vehicle weight [European Plastics News].

The most fascinating aspect, from a designer’s perspective; is the multifarious options available for a given application from a materials selection viewpoint.


According to a recent report, wind farms could produce as much as 49% of EU (European Union) electricity by 2050 , up from 5% today [Financial Times]. The report states that EU businesses and consumers face at least 20 years of electricity price rises. Dubbed as  “Energy Roadmap to 2050” and due for release by the year – end; the assessment analyses different scenarios to make the EU less dependent on conventional fossil fuels.With China (having the highest installed wind power capacity) seeking to challenge GE and other Western firms in the wind turbine market, Bloomberg suggests wind power could become competitive with fossil fuel, as a shift to Chinese suppliers could nudge down the cost and enable competing with coal and natural gas [The Diplomat].


Recent studies indicate that the corrosion rate of zinc is significantly reduced by alloying it with nickel. Increasing the Ni content increases the barrier of activation energy- a higher value of corrosion resistance is obtained at 10% Ni [Sciencia].

In the field of corrosion, metal researchers rarely like to be second best – alloying is such a boon !

Smart metals are essentially high-tech materials that can remember their cold-forged shape, returning the pre-deformed shape by heating. Shape memory alloys using a 50:50 combination of titanium and nickel are expensive. Hence work is in progress to produce a less expensive smart alloy using copper and aluminum and having potential large-volume applications in electronics and mechanical industries [Materials Insight].

Polymers, composites, metallic alloys….all have their pros and cons in applications. New developments in their respective fields  have a lot to do with  morphology (evident from above new developments in PE and CF). In the ultimate analysis, such technological advancements are extremely rewarding.

Let us  continue to partake in this exciting adventure and keep challenging ourselves in raising the bar when it comes to designing products for applications using polymers & composites.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram