The overall outlook for the composites industry remains healthy, driven by developments in the commercial aircraft market - the advent of Boeing's 787 and Airbus Industrie's (Toulouse, France) A380, the future arrivals of the Airbus A400M military transport and its mid-sized A350 XWB, and a host of general aviation aircraft, all with unprecedented levels of composite components. The cautious optimism of 2007 has segued to confidence, especially among suppliers and users of carbon fiber. But in the short-term, lulls in the U.S. boating industry and the overpriced housing market in the last half of 2007, the result of slowing overall economic growth, tempered the mood in some quarters, but were considered by some to be temporary setbacks. Also, resin prices continued to uptick in 2007 as manufacturers sought relief from continued high prices for crude oil.
According to figures compiled by the Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland, Ohio), demand for reinforced plastics will increase to more than 4.2 billion lb by the year 2009, a market value of $6.7 billion (USD). During that period, manufacturers of composites are expected to consume 2.7 billion lb of resin and 1.5 billion lb of reinforcements.
Boatbuilding - Despite the 2007 lull, composites continue to offset wood and aluminum construction in boat hulls, decks and superstructures. Market research firm Freedonia Group (Cleveland, Ohio) estimates that global demand for recreational boating products will grow 7 percent annually to $33 billion by 2010. New boat sales, which hit bottom in 2003, rebounded in 2004 and since have grown at roughly prerecession rates, according to the National Marine Manufacturer's Assn. Although sales for outboard and inboard motorboats were down in 2006, new boat unit sales overall were up 6 percent. North America is still the largest recreational boating market, but Europe is the fastest growing. U.S. demand for recreational boating products should increase 4.8 percent annually through 2009 to $16.7 billion. Open molding continues to give place to closed molding. Although the market is dominated by glass fiber-reinforced polyesters and vinyl esters, boatbuilders are employing carbon fiber reinforcement not molding. Although the market is dominated by glass fiber-reinforced polyesters and vinyl esters, boatbuilders are employing carbon fiber reinforcement not only in sailing yacht rigging systems (masts, shrouds, stays and spreaders) where it has become the standard, but in the upper deck structures of megapoweryachts, primarily in Europe, to decrease topside weight and increase boat stability. Observers, however, see breakout growth potential for carbon, for the same reasons, in the much larger 20-ft to 40-ft cruiser boat segment. Additionally, some believe carbon has great potential in military boats. Estimates of current carbon fiber use range from 450,000 lb to 590,000 lb (227 to 267 metric tonnes) per year.
Automotive and transportation - Rising fuel prices have provided greater motivation for automotive OEMs to lightweight their vehicles to improve fuel economy. Composites continue to be attractive replacements for steel in automotive body panels, structural components and under-the-hood parts. But composites for horizontal body panels (previously considered impractical) made the biggest splash in 2007. Fuel-cell powered concept cars - GM's Volt, Hundai's QarmaQ and Ford's Focus FCX premiered with composites technology that may be a harbinger of a near-future automotive lightweighting frontier. The Focus FCX features a lightweight carbon composite hood, while on the QarmaQ, the lightweight hood (similar to that on the Volt) was hot-tool compression molded from high-performance thermoplastic composite (HPPC), which is a product of GE Plastics and partner Azdel Inc. (Forest, Va.). Developed specifically to make reinforced thermoplastics practical for horizontal body panels, HPPC consists of a sandwich of Azdel Superlite glass mat thermoplastic between two-ply skins of continuous unidirectional glass fiber wet out with thermoplastic resin, For the QarmaQ hood, the Superlite core resin is Valox iQ, GE's new "green"polyester made with feedstock components extracted from reclaimed polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda bottles. The skins are wet out with Xenoy polycarbonate/polybutylene terephthalate resin blend. The latter has sufficient service temperature to withstand online painting at 210°/410°F.
Corrosion-resistant applications - The direct cost of metallic corrosion in the U.S. alone is estimated at $300 billion per year by CC Technologies Laboratories Inc. (Dublin, Ohio) with support from NACE International (the National Association of Corrosion Engineers). Every sector of the economy has significant corrosion costs, including water and sewer piping systems, highways and bridges, electrical utilities and industrial plants. Corrosion-resistant composite materials are ideally suited to replace metal structures. Demand for fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites to replace expensive stainless steel and high-nickel alloy scrubbers and chimneys (called stacks) that remove sulpher dioxide SO2 from flue gas emissions in coal-burning plants is exceeding supply as coal-burning power plants in the U.S. push toward compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). CAIR calls for a reduction in emissions of 70 percent by 2015. Innovative new technologies for stack construction include computer-controlled, stationary vertical winding equipment that can field-wind preprogrammed sections of a stack around a rotating mold. Winding systems are available for tanks up to 124-ft/38m diameter, according to Robert Brady, of engineering consultancy The Brady Group (Portland, Ore.). As each section is wound, it can be jacked up above the mold to permit the next section to be wound using the same mold. This "jack-and-wind"process can be repeated until the stack reaches its design height - in some cases, more than 500 ft/152m.
Cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) rehabilitation technology is a burgeoning market that eliminates the disruptive digging that is otherwise required to repair underground water/wastewater piping. Currently, several CIPP processes use nonwoven glass/polyester mat that, when wet out with resin, bond with the inside surface of existing pipe, forming a tough, seamless, corrosion-resistant liner. UV-curable CIPP technology, developed in Europe and now gaining attention in the U.S., eliminates the need for hot water or steam cure and the equipment necessary to heat it, and ends concern about the presence of styrenated water in the flow media following cure. International Pipe Lining Technologies (IPL, San Diego, Calif.) and Reline America (Saltville, Va.) offer UV-curable liners in diameters up to 48 inches/1.2m. The lining systems rely on stitch-bonded, light transparent fiberglass fabric wetout with resin formulated for ultraviolet (UV) cure. Cure is effected by a UV light "train"- a collection of UV lamps on a wheeled device - which is pulled through the pre-impregnated CIPP at a speed calculated to provide UV energy at an intensity and exposure duration sufficient to completely through-cure the laminate.
Construction - Composite materials continue to play an increasingly significant role in construction, primarily in residential housing applications. However, the U.S. housing market, which was strong in 2005 and 2006, suffered from overpricing in 2007. Despite that, composites are having a strong showing in the still strong remodeling market, on the strength of wood plastic composites (WPCs). According to The Freedonia Group LLC (Cleveland, Ohio), demand for wood-filled thermoplastic composite lumber is unprecedented, especially in deck board and railing, molding and trim, fencing and door and window components. According to Freedonia's Composite & Plastic Lumber report (issued in February 2006), WPC lumber production is forecast to expand nearly 14 percent per annum through 2009 to 2.7 billion lb per year. WPC deck board, alone, accounts for about 50 percent of overall WPC volume and has staked claim to a good piece of the $4.6 billion U.S. decking market, increasing from 4 percent in 1996 to 14 percent in 2006. That percentage is expected to grow to 23 percent by 2011 and 32 percent by 2016. Despite the weaker new housing market in the U.S. going into 2008, the decking market is relatively stable because more than 85 percent of demand is generated through inherently less cyclical remodeling and repair activity. According to strategic consulting firm Principia Partners (Exton, Pa.), approximately 88 percent of WPC decking is from R&R. WPC sales are expected to hold: U.S. demand for decking is projected to advance 2.2 percent per year through 2011 reports Freedonia in its latest Wood & Competitive Decking report (July 2007).
Civil infrastructure - More than 250,000 deficient or obsolete structures, such as bridges and parking garages, need repair, retrofit or replacement in the U.S. alone. Glass, glass/aramid hybrids and carbon fibers, used with epoxy resin, continue to find application as cost-effective column-wrapping and jacketing systems for seismic and structural upgrading.
Fiberglass composites are finding niche applications in areas such as stay-in-place concrete forms, reinforcing rebar, bridge decks, wind fairings and enclosures, as well as entire bridges. Exhibiting corrosion resistance, light weight (approximately one-fifth the weight of steel), high strength and ease of installation, composite materials are gradually being accepted as alternatives to traditional materials to reduce dead load and extend structure life. Carbon fibers are finding a niche here as well, particularly in precast concrete products such as those provided by TechFab LLC (Anderson, S.C.) for architectural cladding, insulating sandwich panels, hardwall panels and double tees.
Governments and engineering associations worldwide are cooperating to standardize workable international design parameters, and the composites industry is forging critical alliances with the civil engineering community and associations. A notable example is the American Concrete Institute (ACI) and CERF (Civil Engineering Research Foundation) which published its Guide Test Methods for Fiber-Reinforced Polymers for Reinforcing or Strengthening Concrete Structures (ACI 440.3R-04) in 2006 and is working on a state-of-the-art document that addresses the durability of fiber-reinforced polymers when they are used in conjunction with concrete.
Bridge decks, a continuing focus of composites development, have been dominated by glass-fiber-reinforced pultruded components. However, other composite designs made some headlines in 2007.
A carbon fiber bridge, manufactured by FiberCore Europe (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) and installed mid-year in the Dutch town of Dronton, featured an unusual carbon fiber-reinforced sandwich structure. This bridge, 24.5m long, 5m wide and weighing but 12 metric tonnes, features a deck with a honeycomb core laid in a sinusoidal pattern, with facesheets featuring 3 tons of Panex 35 fiber (Zoltek Inc., St. Louis, Mo.) impregnated with vinyl ester resin from DSM Resins (Heerlen, The Netherlands). An adaptable tooling system allows FiberCore to accommodate a variety of lengths, widths and other dimensions. Fibercore says the cost of the bridge is competitive with concrete and weighs nine times less.
Meanwhile, Composite Advantage (Dayton, Ohio) fabricated 14,000 ft² (1,300m²) of composite decking for the Anacostia River Walk pedestrian bridge, which will span an active railroad corridor and connect bicycle and pedestrian trails near Washington, D.C.
In contrast to composite bridge designs that must compete with less costly concrete or steel proposals, the Anacostia bridge is a cost-competitive hybrid design that incorporates an integrally molded sandwich deck supported by steel girders. The deck's sandwich construction, features a z-directional composite-reinforced foam core made by WebCore Technologies (Miamisburg, Ohio) molded on simple, reconfigurable tooling.
Oil and gas - As the price of oil on the world market continues to climb, and as yet untapped land and shallow offshore oil reserves become a rarity, oil exploration companies are striking out into deepwater, tapping reserves beneath the ocean floor a mile or more below the water's surface. As a result, demand for strong yet lightweight materials able to stand up to the harsh subsea environment has spiked, with a corresponding peak of interest in composites. As the mid-year point in 2007 approached, that interest translated into action on many fronts, pushing several key projects beyond R&D and proposals and test installations into production for "live"projects.
Although production of composite risers - a hoped-for mega market for carbon fiber composites in the offshore oil arena - has yet to be realized, carbon is making headway in a key deepsea well technology, the umbilical. An umbilicals is a bundled collection of steel and/or thermoplastic tubing and electric cabling used to transmit chemicals, hydraulic fluids, electric power and two-way communication and control between topside production vessels and subsea production equipment. Umbilicals typically range up to 10 inches (254 mm) in diameter, with internal tubes ranging from 0.5 inch to 1 inch (12.7 mm to 25.4 mm) in diameter. A dynamic umbilical is the portion of this key linking technology that is freely suspended from the semisubmersible platform to the sea floor, where it transitions to a static section that terminates at the remote subsea wellhead. Unlike the static component, a dynamic umbilical must withstand not only the stress of its own weight, but also must manage the uneven stress loads applied when it assumes its curved shape or catenary as it descends to its seabed connection. Aker Kvaerner Subsea (AKS, Lysaker, Norway) has introduced a dynamic umbilical that features an outer casing reinforced along its length with multiple carbon-fiber rods pultruded by Vello Nordic AS (Skodje, Norway). The rods feature longitudinal (0°) reinforcement with Panex 35 commercial-grade 48K carbon fiber tow provided by Zoltek Inc. (St. Louis, Mo.) wet out with vinyl ester resin supplied by Reichhold (Research Triangle Park, N.C.)
An initial order, placed by Kerr-McGee (Oklahoma City, Okla.) for its Merganser field off the southern U.S. coast in the Gulf of Mexico, has been augmented by several follow-on orders. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC, Houston, Tex.) acquired Kerr-McGee in August of 2006 and then placed an order for three more carbon rod umbilicals plus 180 km/112 miles of AKS's conventional steel umbilicals for static placement, making it the largest umbilical order ever placed.
Sports and recreation - Composites are found in products used for seven of the 10 most popular outdoor sports and recreational activities. Glass-reinforced composites (alone or in hybrids with other fibers) continue to replace wood and metal in fishing rods, tennis racquets, spars/shafts for kayak paddles, windsurfing masts, hockey sticks, kites and bicycle handlebars, as well as in niche applications such as fairings for recumbent bikes. Sporting goods consume at least 11 million lb of carbon fiber annually, worldwide, according to one carbon fiber producer.
Aerospace - Developments in the aerospace world, the point of origin for advanced composites and where they are still find most use, repeatedly made headlines. Following a 2006 filled with setbacks, aircraft giant Airbus bounced back in 2007. After years of design and development work, and more than 18 months behind schedule, the first A380 superjumbo jet was delivered on Oct. 15 by Airbus to Singapore Airlines. With the help of lightweight composites (about 16 percent by weight), the A380 is reported to have a fuel consumption of less than 3 liters per passenger per 100 kilometers. The aircraft has a range of more than 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km) and seat-mile costs 20 percent lower than the former largest aircraft, the Boeing 747. To date, total orders and commitments for the A380 are 189 from 16 customers (Airbus must build and sell more than 460 planes to break even). Subsequent aircraft for delivery to Singapore Airlines, Emirates Airlines and Qantas also are said to be on track. However, Airbus acknowledged that there would be unspecified but significant penalties for the delay, and Credit Suisse is forecasting Airbus cost overruns of about â‚¬500 million, or $710.3 million (USD).
Relaunched as the medium-capacity, long-range A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Body), the Airbus answer to Boeing's mid-sized 787 is now slated to enter service in 2013 at a cost of $15 billion for its development, nearly three times the original estimate. The XWB replaces two previous designs for the A350, which was first introduced in 2005 but came under criticism from Airbus customers, who thought the plane fell short of expectations. Although the plane is running well behind the 787 in terms of entry into service, airline confidence in the product appears to be high: Airbus had picked up a total, in late Octber 2007, of more than 225 firm orders since the launch. Airbus claims this latest version of the A350 will have the widest fuselage in its class (its cross-section has been increased to 232 inches/5.9m) and predicts that it will have the lowest operating and seat-mile costs of any aircraft in its category as well.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Sept. 15 that the A350 XWB will feature an airframe of advanced composite materials instead of metal. The report notes that Airbus had been taking the view that attaching skin panels made of carbon fiber composites to an aluminum-alloy skeleton was superior to Boeing's method of making both the frame and skin of the 787 Dreamliner from composites. Airbus, according to the WSJ, began to rethink its position after encountering resistance from customers who questioned whether the A350 would be more difficult to maintain than the 787. Airbus intends to complete its designs of the A350 late next year and expects to deliver the first A350 in 2013.
Without doubt, however, it was the July 2007 roll out of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, that drew the most attention. The televised event succeeded, like no other new product launch in the composites industry's history, making composites the subject of wide public interest. The plane also is the fastest selling plane of its type in history, having attracted 710 firm orders by November of 2007. However, by Oct. 10, Boeing officials had announced that both the first flight and first delivery of its composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner would be delayed from late 2007 until 2008. The plane has been rescheduled to take to the skies for the first time in March this year, with delivery of the first plane to Japan's All Nippon Airways set for November or December.
The announcement came in the wake of problems that had escalated since late summer. After the rollout of the first, but only partially completed 787, Boeing faced a shortage of fasteners and was coping with complicated rework on the plane, the result of difficulties with its far-flung supply chain. Given the large number of suppliers delivering subassemblies from all over the world, and the plane's unprecedented use of carbon fiber composites, Boeing reported that managing the workflow complexity proved more daunting than expected.
As Boeing and Airbus struggled with delivery schedules and jockeyed for supremacy in the air, China officially entered the fray, announcing plans to launch its own large commercial jet by 2020. Government officials in Beijing said they have accelerated development of a locally designed and built passenger craft to compete for the billions it spends on foreign-made planes. Plans for the large aircraft will be completed by 2010. It's builder, China Aviation Industry Corp., already is manufacturing the ARJ21, a midsized jet that is expected to begin flight testing in 2008. Reports say the consortium has 70 advance orders for this plane from domestic airlines.
The Chinese planes are not expected to compete in the international market immediately but should see good domestic support thanks to the government's influence over the airline industry.
The firms facing the most eventual risk in the wake of this development are Boeing and Airbus, but the giants assume there is enough potential business to bear increased competition. Since 2000, air passenger ridership in China has risen by 105 percent to 138 million trips per year. The combined fleet of the country's airlines rose to 863 planes from 527 over the same period. Boeing already has 60 orders from China-based carriers for 787 Dreamliners; Airbus has 100 orders from China, including five for the A380.
For its part, Airbus predicts that mainland China will need more than 3,000 passenger aircraft and freighters from 2006 to 2025, including 2,050 single-aisle aircraft, nearly 600 small, twin-aisle aircraft, more than 200 intermediate twin-aisle aircraft and 180 very large aircraft. Airbus says China's passenger fleet will triple in the next 20 years from 760 at the end of 2005 to 2,700 in 2025.
On the military front, Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.) and partners Northrop Grumman, BAE SYSTEMS, GKN Aerospace Services and a host of subcontractors delivered, in 2007, the first planes under its $200 billion Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) contract. The U.S. Navy's F-35C Lightning II, the aircraft carrier variant of the JSF, has completed its Air System Critical Design Review (CDR), a significant development milestone that verifies the design maturity of the aircraft. Completion of the CDR is a prerequisite for the F-35C to move into Low Rate Initial Production. The F-35C will replace the U.S. Navy's F/A-18 Hornet and complement the newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This F-35C will be the Navy's first stealth aircraft and is specially outfitted for the catapult launches and arrested recoveries necessary for deployment to and from large aircraft carriers.
The MV-22 Osprey, the composites-intensive tiltrotor helicopter developed by Boeing and Bell Helicopter (Ft. Worth, Texas) for the U.S. Marines, has accomplished two major steps required for initial operational capability (IOC) and was deployed to the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in September 2007. The news is a significant milestone in the aircraft's development history, which has been marred by serious cost overruns and delays, including a grounding and redesign following two fatal crashes during testing in 2000.
The U.S. Marines expect the Osprey to fly twice as fast and three times farther (900-mile/1,448-km range) than the Vietnam-era CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter it will replace. The Osprey's intensive use of composites is also is expected to help it absorb rounds fired by enemy weapons.
Late in 2007, Airbus announced a delay in delivery of its composites-intensive A400M military transport aircraft. The first flight of the four-engine, high-wing turboprop, scheduled for January 2008, now is likely to take place instead in July, with certification to follow in 2009 and first delivery to the French air force in 2010. The massive military transport plane will replace C-130s and C-160s in Europe. Its composite structures include 18.3m/6-ft composite wing spars designed and tape layed by GKN Aerospace (Cowes, Isle of Wight, U.K.)
In the regional/business jet market, the Japanese aerospace industry signaled its intention to become a contender with the 90-seat Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI, Shinagawa, Japan), revealed that the MRJ has been in development since 2003. Although there is no specific build program at this time, the MRJ, if built, would enter into service in 2012. Composites are targeted to the fuselage, wing and empennage, building on the technology development and experience gained by MHI from its development and production of the first composite wing boxes for the Boeing 787. Composites and a newly developed engine are projected to offer a 20 percent savings in fuel consumption compared to current regional jets. Meanwhile, Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier Inc. (Montreal, Quebec) fielded its CRJ700 and CRJ900 NextGen aircraft with new advanced composite components, including flaps, vanes and ailerons fabricated in a resin transfer molding (RTM) process. The company claims that use of RTM has enabled significant parts consolidation - the total number of parts required for wing component assemblies has fallen by almost 80 percent for the aileron and 95 percent for the flap and vane.
In the general aviation market, the flurry of Very Light Jet (VLJ) programs announced in recent years are moving toward fruition, with several planes, notably the Adam Aircraft (Englewood, Co.) A700, on the path for 2008 FAA certification. VLJs, weighing less than 10,000 lb and designed for a single pilot, will cater to business travelers and may spark a strong air taxi market that could cut into commercial carrier business - these lightweight planes have a range of 1,000 miles (1600 km), require runways as short as 3000 ft (914.5m), can land at regional airports and in some cases can be cost-competitive with commercial carriers. VLJ manufacturers are heavy users of a variety of composites in wing, fuselage and engine applications. In addition to Adam aircraft, notable VLJ manufacturers include Cessna (Wichita, Kan.), Eclipse Aviation (Albuquerque, N.M.), Embraer (Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil), Adam Aircraft (Englewood, Colo.), Excel-Jet (Monument, Colo.), Aviation Technology Group (Englewood, Colo.), Diamond Aircraft (London, Ontario, Canada) and Epic Aircraft (Bend, Ore.).
UAVs and UCAVs - The booming unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market continues to expand with hundreds of designs competing for military and civilian contract dollars worldwide. While UAV wingspans range from commercial airliner size down to palm-sized micro flyers, small long-endurance "tactical"UAVs, those that support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), are becoming key components of military and homeland security missions.
UAVs are currently the fastest-growing segment of the aerospace sector, with a worldwide value of more than $2 billion (USD). More than 40 countries have gone on record as producing at least one UAV airframe, and more than 500 systems exist.
Composites are the material of choice for UAV airframes, which can range from a few inches in length to the size of a commercial airliner. High strength-to-weight and limited radar signature and signal transparency are the main drivers. Since pilot or passenger risk isn't an issue, UAV designers have a wider range of possibilities open to them to meet specific mission objectives. However, standards for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been developed by NATO's Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD). Currently, special fixed-wing UAVs with a take-off weight between 150 kg to 20,000 kg do not operate under a common set of aviation standards. The NATO Working Group has, over the past 18 months, in cooperation with UAV specialists from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, put forward a set of codes dubbed USAR (UAV Systems Airworthiness Requirements). The USAR code, which represents the first international initiative toward common UAV airworthiness rules, was based on a French proposal to take a current standard for manned aircraft and adapt it to suit the characteristics of UAVs. The initiative is being formally considered by all the member countries for approval as a NATO Standardized Agreement (STANAG).
One of the more noteworthy of many pieces of 2007 UAV news concerned the ScanEagle, a fully autonomous, composite unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Boeing and Insitu Inc. (Bingen, Wash.). The craft proved its worth, surpassing 1,000 flight hours in southern Iraq, completing 172 sorties in less than five months. ScanEagle provided live imagery to Australian soldiers operating from Camp Terendak, Ali Air Base in the Dhi Qar province. ScanEagle, which is 4 ft/1.2m long with a 10-ft/3m wingspan, carries either an electro-optical or an infrared camera. For a vehicle of its size, its combination of endurance and payload is reportedly unmatched. The system can provide more than 15 consecutive hours of "on-station"coverage, and can be launched and recovered from land or sea, providing greater flexibility than other systems in its class.
This and many other programs represent explosive growth in UAV development: As existing programs mature, it is likely that an additional $10 billion will be spent by 2010.
Wind and power - Wind power is the world's fastest growing energy source and the giant rotor blades on the turbines are the composites industry's fastest growing fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) application. The European Union still leads the way. In 2006, the latest year for which statistics existed at press time, European wind power capacity, according to the European Wind Energy Assn. (EWEA), increased by 7,588 MW in the EU, a 23 percent improvement over 2005. EWEA anticipates similar increases for 2007. The cumulative wind power capacity operating in the EU increased by 19 percent to greater than 48,000 MW, supplying about 3.3 percent of total EU electricity consumption.
Although the U.S. is running a distant second, the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA, Washington, D.C.) announced in early November a substantial increase in the projected installation of new wind energy facilities in 2007. The previous projection, 3,000 megawatts (MW) of new wind-generated electric power capacity in 2007, has been increased to 4,000 MW. AWEA reports that new windfarms already have added more than 2,300 MW of generating capacity to the electrical grid in 2007, with more than 5,000 MW in various stages of construction. (One MW of electricity, on average, serves 250 to 300 households.)
While this is good news, AWEA warns that the lack of a long-term, national policy to promote renewable energy development could jeopardize further growth. The federal production tax credit (PTC) for renewable energy will expire in December 2008, and AWEA warned in November 2007, that there was no national renewable electricity standard (RES) or other long-term policy set to take its place. The U.S. House of Representatives in August had passed a new RES, but that bill had not, at press time, yet cleared the U.S. Senate.
AWEA contends that the continuity in the PTC since 2005 has spurred both record-breaking new generating capacity (2,431 MW added in 2005, 2,454 MW in 2006 and 4,000 MW expected in 2007) and a wave of investment in manufacturing facilities and services across the country.
In state-by-state reporting, AWEA noted that Texas, again, added the largest amount of new wind power capacity (600 MW). Colorado installed 264 MW and now ranks sixth in U.S. wind power generation. Washington state, with 140 MW of new wind capacity, has pulled ahead of Minnesota into fourth place. Missouri saw the completion of its first utility-scale wind farm, a 56.7-MW project that generates power for electric cooperatives, while utility-scale projects also went online in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Iowa.
The sleeping giant in the wind power landscape, however, could be China. Currently the sixth-largest wind energy market in the world, with close to 2,620 MW of installed capacity, China ranks fifth in the amount of wind power generating capacity installed in 2006, adding more than 1,370 MW of new capacity. Although that represents half of the capacity installed in the U.S. during the same period, China is second only to the U.S. as a consumer of electricity and has the fastest growing energy demand in the world. That leaves room for huge growth in wind energy. Determined to reduce its dependence on coal and imported oil, China enacted the Renewable Energy Law in 2006, which mandates that at least 5 percent of electricity must be generated from renewable sources by 2010 and 10 percent by 2020. To meet that goal, China must have 30,000 MW (or 30 gigawatts) of wind power capacity by 2020, which translates into roughly 2,100 MW installed per year for the next 13 years.
Utility Infrastructure - As natural insulators with high dielectric strength, fiberglass composites revolutionized the handling of electricity when they first replaced wood and metal in 1959. Today, utilities in the U.S. and elsewhere are working with composite suppliers to take advantage of fiberglass for both power transmission towers and distribution poles, cables, cross-arms - traditionally the province of wood and steel - and the aluminum conductor cables they support. Pultruded and filament wound composite utility poles and cross-arms have begun to overcome buyer resistance as electric power companies employ them primarily as replacements for aging wood poles in remote and/or extremely humid locations. One good example is RS Technologies' (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) glass/polyurethane power poles, which have been specified by several utility companies for installation. Composite-reinforced aluminum conductor cables (CRAC) replace traditional steel strength members in cables with a pultruded continuous-fiber core, which is expected to reduce weight and increase power-transmission efficiency by an estimated 200 percent. If successful in upcoming tests and demonstration projects, CRAC technologies may find application in infrastructure modernization projects estimated by one CRAC developer to be well in excess of $10 billion in China alone. Meanwhile, to maintain the electrical infrastructure in North America at current levels will require an investment of $56 billion over the next decade - twice the amount presently earmarked for that purpose by utility companies. Yet CRAC cable developers claim that power needs will actually increase, by as much as 19 percent, in that time frame, making CRAC cabling an attractive alternative for upgrading power lines, without erecting new towers or obtaining additional rights-of-way.
Fuel Cells - Reinforced thermosets and thermoplastics are likely candidates for the eventual materials of choice used to make the bi-polar plates, end plates, fuel tanks and other components in fuel cell systems. Fuel cell technologies of several types offer a "clean"(near-zero VOC) means to convert hydrogen to electrical power in automotive and stationary power systems. Due to their conductivity, corrosion resistance, dimensional stability and flame retardancy, vinyl-ester-based bulk molding compounds with carbon fiber reinforcement have already been selected in a least one commercially available stationary unit.