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The outlook for the composites industry remains healthy over the long term, with suppliers expressing cautious optimism about the next 12 months. According to figures compiled by the Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland, Ohio), demand for reinforced plastics will increase to more than 1.9 million metric tonnes (4.2 billion
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The outlook for the composites industry remains healthy over the long term, with suppliers expressing cautious optimism about the next 12 months. According to figures compiled by the Freedonia Group Inc. (Cleveland, Ohio), demand for reinforced plastics will increase to more than 1.9 million metric tonnes (4.2 billion lb) by the year 2009, with a market value of $6.7 billion (USD). During that period, manufacturers of composites are expected to consume 1.22 million metric tonnes (2.7 billion lb) of resin and 680,000 metric tonnes (1.5 billion lb) of reinforcements. However, resin prices continued to increase significantly throughout 2005, as manufacturers sought to relieve pressures from an unprecedented spike in the price of crude oil, higher transportation costs and the cost of repairing U.S. refineries recently damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Economies around the world picked up steam during the same period, however, and the composites industry was a direct beneficiary.

Boatbuilding – Durable fiberglass composites continue to replace wood and aluminum in boat hulls and superstructures, and the overall U.S. marine market shows continued strength. The Freedonia Group estimates that global demand for recreational boating products will grow 7 percent annually to $33 billion by 2010. 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 will continue to give way to emission-reducing processes such as VARTM, and more automated processes, such as in-mold preforming used by Sea Ray (see CT October 2005, p. 34) and Genmar Holdings’ Virtual Engineered Composite (VEC) matched mold technology (VEC Technology (Greenville, Pa.), used to manufacture Larson, Glastron and Ranger boats. Further, today’s prefabricated FRP stringers and complete boat “kits” comprising structural sandwich panels represent not only environmentally sound boatbuilding approaches, but significant labor/cost reductions, as well.

Picture: The all-composite square rig of the Maltese Falcon, an 88m/288-ft megayacht launched in July 2006 by Italian boatbuilder Perini Navi, soars 57m/187 ft high. Each of its three composite masts is fitted with six curved composite yards. A significant development in composite use in boatbuilding was the construction of a specially contoured ship rudder for U.S. Navy applications. The design incorporates a structural steel skeleton surrounded by polyurethane forms and wrapped with an E-glass-based reinforcing fabric. Structural Composites (Melbourne, Fla.) does the molding using its Recirculation Molding process, a variation on light RTM. Source: Insensys

Automotive and transportation – Composites continue to be attractive replacements for steel in automotive body panels, structural components and under-the-hood parts. SMC compounders and their resin suppliers formulated tougher paint “pop”-free SMC, a breakthrough that helped ensure the use of SMC parts in a number of vehicles in 2005, including the Honda Ridgeline pickup box. Compounders also are developing SMC formulations compatible with powder-coat finishes, which are under consideration by some automakers as a more environmentally friendly alternative to the oven-baked paints currently in use.

Picture: The 2007 Jeep Wrangler sports a groundbreaking removable composite hardtop with a built-in sunroof. The hardtop is compression molded in three pieces from sheet molding compound (SMC). Source: DaimlerChrysler

While automakers are expected to make even greater use of SMC and other glass-reinforced and filled polymers to meet increasing demand for fuel economy, carbon fiber composites have become a real selling point in the high-end sports car and aftermarket segments. Most notably, a carbon fiber hood on the 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Commemorative Edition became the first carbon fiber outer body panel to appear on a North American production automobile. GM went a step further with the 2006 Corvette Z06 and developed a first-of-its-kind carbon fiber floor panel, made with a carbon molding compound (CMC) from Molded Fiber Glass Cos. (Ashtabula, Ohio). Carbon fiber SMC supplied by Quantum Composites (Bay City, Mich.) is used for several components on the Dodge Viper sports car. The Porsche Carrera GT and Mercedes SLR McLaren have incorporated considerable quantities of carbon not only in the body panels, but also in the structure. In the Carrera GT, carbon composite structural members include the cockpit and engine cradle. Other vehicles with carbon fiber components include the Lamborghini Murcièlago, Saleen S-7, Ford GT, Mazda RX-8 and Nissan 350Z. A revolutionary new use of carbon is ATR’s (Colonella, Italy) design for an RTM’d and autoclaved automotive “space frame” that will replace traditional chassis design with a lightweight composite. Carbon fibers also have found their way into tires; Goodyear’s ResponsEdge Technology features carbon and aramid fiber behind the tread to extend tire life and enhance automobile performance. Glass-reinforced thermoplastics took a big step forward with the recent development of a thermoformed glass/PA6 bumper/front-end crash structure by Lotus Cars (Hethel, U.K.) and Jacob Composites (Wilhelmsdorf, Germany). The prototype structure has proved crashworthy and affordable, particularly at higher volumes (a challenge for carbon-based parts), and provides weight savings as well. The automotive aftermarket will continue to expand at 5 percent per year through 2007, driven in part by repair of older vehicles, says a Freedonia Group market study. Composites represent a significant part of the $113 billion total market, including hoods, spoilers, bumpers, fenders and tonneau covers. 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. Composite materials are ideally suited to replace metallic structures, because of their excellent corrosion resistance. Composite piping, tanks, scrubbers and pressure vessels have expanded into industrial sectors, including the pulp/paper and electronics industries, because of their virtually maintenance-free performance. 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. One recent and unique entrant into the CIPP market, Smart Pipe Co. LP (Houston, Texas), doesn’t use in-place curing at all. Smart Pipe pipes, which feature extruded rigid polyethylene wrapped in layers of glass and carbon fiber tape and glass rovings, are manufactured onsite and pulled through the host pipe for installation. The company’s pipes are designed for high-pressure and corrosive environments and can be installed underground over distances of thousands of feet.

Corrosion-resistant composites are making significant inroads into the huge and growing global water and wastewater market, estimated at more than $45 billion a year. Equipment used in water and wastewater treatment plants must withstand sustained exposure to highly corrosive chemicals, combined with high heat, humidity and sunlight. Composite equipment has been in continuous service for more than 30 years, meeting rigorous wastewater processing requirements throughout the world and holding great promise for initial installations in developing nations. A recent milestone in CIPP was reached when Lanzo Lining Services (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) completed the composite relining of a noncircular, triple-barrel sewer overflow outfall pipeline in Detroit, Mich. Measuring 1,097m/3,600 lineal ft, the relined pipe is ranked, among similar rehab projects, as one of the world’s largest.

Construction – Composite materials continue to play an increasingly significant role in construction, primarily in residential housing applications. The housing market remained strong in the first half of 2005, indicating continued business for the solid surface and bathware composite segments of the industry. A huge growing market, estimated to reach $2 billion by 2007, is wood-filled thermoplastic lumber, used for outdoor decking, house siding, fencing, marine applications and window and door frames, among other products. One growing market segment is the use of composite material reinforcing grids in precast concrete panels. CarbonCast architectural precast concrete panels are supplied by several companies affiliated under the AltusGroup (Lancaster, Pa.) umbrella. 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 (see “Repair considerations,” p. 34). 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, composites 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 like the American Concrete Institute (ACI) and the Civil Engineering Forum for Innovation (CEFI), formerly the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF). Standards development continues for civil composites applications. ACI just released its “Guide Test Methods for Fiber-Reinforced Polymers for Reinforcing or Strengthening Concrete Structures” (ACI 440.3R-04) and is working on a state-of-the-art document that addresses the durability of fiber-reinforced polymers used in conjunction with concrete. Corrosion in marine environments has opened opportunities for composites in waterfront applications, such as marine fenders, pilings and outfall structures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that about $2 billion (USD) is spent each year maintaining wooden waterfront pilings damaged by corrosion, termites and marine organisms. Several varieties of composite applications have emerged to address this problem, including large monopiles made with VARTM; hybrid glass and carbon pilings and supports for large outfalls; one-piece, single-seam fiberglass/polyester (using CSM and woven roving) pile liners; and pultruded composite sheet piling for marine construction.

Oil and gas – The vast offshore oil and gas industry is increasingly receptive to the use of both fiberglass and advanced carbon composites. Miles of piping and other composite components are already in place on platforms and rigs, in fire water pipe, gratings, housing modules and other topside facilities service. Several manufacturers are working with major oil companies to develop composite production systems, including riser pipe for deepwater exploration and production. However, with the exception of a successful deployment by Conoco on the Heidrun platform in the North Sea, widespread riser development appears to be a long way off. That said, less risk-intensive parts, such as control umbilicals, mooring tethers for drilling ships and subsea equipment (e.g., wellhead protection) are making headway. Aker Kvaerner Subsea (Lysaker, Norway) has produced an umbilical with pultruded carbon fiber rods as strength members in a tether-type design, within PVC conduit tubes. Insensys Ltd. (Hamble, U.K.) has developed a composite “shape sensing mat,” a VARTM-made device that incorporates fiber optics and other sensors; it wraps around a steel riser in sea-based oil drilling systems and monitors excessive bending and fatigue during riser deployment. Fiberspar LinePipe LLC (Houston, Tex.) has had success developing spoolable pipe for onshore oil gathering applications. The pipe features an extruded HDPE or crosslinked PE core covered by helically wound carbon or glass fibers and is beating out steel piping for wellhead gathering lines, flow lines and injection lines. More than 1.8 million m (6 million ft) of spoolable pipe have been installed onshore in North America in the last five years. Composites have even found their way into ship-based compressed natural gas (CNG) delivery; Trans Ocean Gas Inc. (St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada) has helped develop large, filament-wound, cylindrical, fiberglass-reinforced pressure tanks as long as 12m/40 ft, with thermoplastic liners and stainless steel fittings on both ends. Prototype bottles are being fabricated by Composites Atlantic Ltd. (Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada) and will be tested by Trans Ocean, Composites Atlantic and certification society Det Norske Veritas.

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 4,990 metric tonnes (11 million lb) of carbon fiber annually, worldwide, according to one carbon fiber producer. Golf shaft makers, in particular, represent a large market segment, producing roll-wrapped and filament-wound shafts with tailored properties for their “tuned” club sets.

Picture: The ultralight Reynolds Cycling carbon composite wheel rims on this bike, manufactured by MacLean Quality Composites (Jordan, Utah), exemplify the many contributions composites have made to sport cycling. Source: Reynolds Cycling

Aerospace – Military and commercial airplane manufacturers remain the major end-users of advanced composite materials. The General Aviation Manufacturers Assn. (GAMA) says the general aviation industry reached an all-time high for billings in 2005; the $15.1 billion reported represents a 27.2 percent increase over 2004’s billings. Year-end worldwide shipments of general aviation airplanes totaled 3,580 units for 2005, up 20.8 percent over 2004’s 2,963 units. All sectors of general aviation manufacturing reported robust growth in 2005. Beginning in 2004, the market for materials surged as production began on Airbus Industrie’s (Toulouse, France) double-decked, superjumbo A380 jetliner. The plane’s airframe is about 25 percent composites, by weight, or about 30 metric tonnes/60,000 lb. By mid-October 2005, Airbus had secured firm orders for 149 A380 aircraft. Airbus started production of the jumbo aircraft, and successfully flew the plane on April 27, 2005. A series of high-profile production delays soon followed, culminating with the October 2006 announcement that the first A380 would be delivered in October 2007; on the heels of this came the resignation of Airbus CEO Christian Streiff, after just three months on the job. He was at loggerheads with the board of the European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (primary owner of Airbus) over changes Streiff wanted to make in A380 manufacturing strategy. The A380, if delivered in October 2007, will be two years behind schedule; according to some reports, Airbus will have to sell 480 A380s to reach the profit point.

Picture: The Boeing Co. preps a 747 Large Cargo Freighter for a test flight. Three LCFs will ferry component subassemblies for the composites-intensive Boeing 787 passenger jet from manufacturing facilities as far away as Japan to Boeing’s U.S. assembly plant. Source: The Boeing Co.

The Boeing Co.’s (Chicago, Ill.) mid-size, twin-aisle 787 Dreamliner, expected to enter commercial use as early as 2008, was formally launched in June 2004. On Nov. 10, 2006, firm orders for the plane stood at 482. Nearly 50 percent of the 787’s total airframe weight will be composite. Boeing announced the 787 aircraft’s “firm configuration” on Sept. 23, 2005, meaning that, henceforth, its design would not be changed as the program moved into production. The plane’s initial flight now is expected sometime in 2007. Toray Industries Inc. (Tokyo, Japan) has been selected as a principal Boeing material supplier, and will provide TORAYCA prepreg material for the 787’s structural composite parts, with a total contract value estimated at $3 billion (USD). Also named as a key supplier was China Aviation Industry Corp. (Beijing, China), which has signed a memorandum of understanding with Boeing to supply parts and assemblies, including the 787’s rudder. Thermal Equipment Corp. (TEC, Torrance, Calif.) was awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to construct the first of a number of large autoclaves (expected to be one of the largest in the world) that soon will be used to cure large composite structures for the 787 at a manufacturing plant in Wichita, Kan. And Boeing gave the go ahead to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Nagasaki, Japan) to fabricate the aircraft’s carbon fiber wing, which will become the first carbon composite wing used on a commercial passenger airplane. Other major suppliers include JAMCO Corp. (Tokyo, Japan) for flight deck interiors, flight deck door and bulkhead assembly. C&D Zodiac (Marysville, Wash.) will provide much of the aircraft’s interiors, including window reveals and cargo liners. The 787 and A380 represent significantly different views of the future of air travel. For its part, Boeing foresees a trend toward smaller, more efficient aircraft. Despite the downturn in commercial aircraft from 2001 to 2003, Boeing is predicting 3.0 percent-per-year growth in the worldwide economy with a 4.8 percent per year increase in commercial airline passenger traffic and a 6.2 percent-per-year rise in cargo traffic through 2024. Boeing further predicts a demand over the next 20 years for 25,700 new commercial planes valued at $2.0 trillion (measured in 2004 USD). Although Boeing’s competitor Airbus works from similar growth statistics and acknowledges the likelihood of intensive competition among airlines, the company has predicted in past years that airlines will move to less frequent flights, carrying more passengers in larger planes that fly at lower per-unit costs (per passenger or pound of cargo), to avoid congestion that would result from an increased number of departures of smaller craft, thus justifying demand for its large-scale transport, the A380. Nevertheless, the company committed to its new A350 aircraft in 2005, an answer to the 787. Full commitment to the new plane was announced in mid-2005, followed in mid-2006 – after reportedly unfavorable comparisons between the A350 and the 787 – by the announcement that Airbus was modifying the A350 to create the A350 XWB (Xtra-Wide Body), featuring increased speed, longer range and enhanced passenger comfort. The 350 XWB’s airframe is slated to use 45 percent composites. A formal industrial launch decision was expected in the last quarter of 2006. So, rather surprisingly, Airbus will simultaneously produce both a jumbo transport and a more nimble and economical alternative. Significantly, and related to Airbus and Boeing, Spirit Aerosystems Inc. (Wichita, Kan.) acquired BAE Systems’ Aerostructures business unit, including operations in Prestwick, Scotland and Samlesbury, U.K. The new unit, to be called Spirit AeroSystems (Europe) Ltd., will produce structural wing components for Airbus, Boeing and Raytheon aircraft. The transaction makes Spirit the world’s largest independent supplier of structures for commercial aircraft. In addition, the development of large fuselage and wing sections from composites for the 787 has prompted the installation of two of the world’s largest autoclaves by Boeing suppliers. Vought Aircraft Industries (Dallas, Texas), which is working on the 787 fuselage, has installed at its North Charleston, S.C. facility an autoclave from ASC Process Systems (Sylmar, Calif.) that measures 9.2m/30 ft in diameter and 23m/75 ft in length. And Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan), which is producing the structural wing box for the 787, now has an autoclave that measures 23 ft/7m in diameter and length, built by Taricco Corp. (Long Beach, Calif.). To deliver these large parts to its assembly plant near Seattle, Wash., Boeing will use three 747 Large Cargo Freighters, modified versions of its 747 passenger jet that feature extra tall and extra wide fuselages (see photo, p. 16). Modifications were performed by Evergreen Aviation Technologies Corp. (Tayuan, Taiwan). The regional and business jet market continues to grow following the downturn of 2002-2003. Order backlogs remain healthy and several manufacturers have introduced new models. The main driver is growing frustration with commercial airline travel, according to analysis from Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. An ever-present negative is environmental regulation, noise restrictions and airport capacity constraints. One strong and dynamic segment is Very Light Jets (VLJs). VLJs weigh less than 4535 kg/10,000 lb and are designed for a single pilot. These upstarts, designed to cater to business travelers, may spark a strong air taxi market that could cut into commercial carrier business – these light-weight planes have a range of 1,600 km/1,000 miles, require runways as short as 914.5m/3000 ft, 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. The planes also feature recently developed turbofan jet engines. Notable manufacturers in this segment 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), Epic Aircraft (Bend, Ore.), and Honda Motors. As of this writing (late October 2006), only Eclipse has won production certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Admin. (FAA) for its VLJs, which means that this market has much evolving to do yet. Leading the resurgence in U.S. military aircraft composites, Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.) and partners Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, GKN Aerospace Services and a host of subcontractors continued work on its $200 billion (USD) Joint Strike Fighter contract. Workers have completed assembly of the center fuselage assembly, and JSF production is now on a revised schedule that should see flight of the first test airplane in late 2006. Called the Maserati of combat jet fighters and more than 20 years in the making, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor faced high development costs and a U.S. Department of Defense reluctant to fully fund it. However, the U.S. Air Force has secured funding for 243 planes, down significantly from the 750 originally requested, but a fair sum given the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. About 25 percent by weight of the F-22 is composites, including carbon fiber combined with epoxy, BMI and PEEK. All of the exterior skins are carbon fiber/BMI produced by automatic tape laying. Europe’s Eurofighter, now in full production, has achieved Type Acceptance and service-ready aircraft are being delivered to the Eurofighter project’s four “partner nations,” Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K., which between them will take delivery of 620 aircraft. In addition, Austria has elected to purchase the plane and Singapore is reportedly considering it as well. The Airbus A400M is a massive military transport plane that will replace C-130s and C-160s in Europe. Its 18.3m/ 60-ft composite wing spars, designed and built by GKN Aerospace (Cowes, Isle of Wight, U.K.), will handle all wing aeroloads as well as torque loads from four massive turboprop engines. Material is traditional tape-layed prepreg. First flight is planned for mid-2007 with initial service in 2009.

UAVs and UCAVs – When unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), designed primarily for reconnaissance missions were retrofitted with lightweight weapons and deployed during military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. government redrew its official Roadmap for UAV development, calling for an unmanned strike vehicle specifically intended to conduct significant combat operations. In October 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) responded to this directive by launching a joint program of the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, Arlington, Va.) to oversee two fast-tracked unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) programs: the X-45, under development by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (St. Louis, Mo.); and the X-47 Pegasus, under development by Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems’ Air Combat Systems business unit (San Diego, Calif.). Boeing plans to outsource the majority of composites fabrication on the X-45C vehicles. So far, it has tapped AAR Composites (Clearwater, Fla.), EDO Fiber Sciences (Salt Lake City, Utah) and C&D Zodiac (Huntington Beach, Calif.) for various fabrication projects on this program. Composed largely of composites, the Pegasus airframes are built by Scaled Composites (Mojave, Calif.). First flight of an Air Force UCAV is planned for 2006 while a Navy version is expected to fly for the first time in 2007.

Picture: Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), almost universally constructed from composites, have been developed in 43 countries. Pictured is the Predator B from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (San Diego, Calif.). Source: GA-ASI

The U.S. Army, in conjunction with DARPA, awarded two Phase II contracts for development of an unmanned combat armed rotorcraft (UCAR). One, for $8.7 million, went to Northrop Grumman, Sikorsky (Stratford, Conn.) and Kaman Aerospace Corporation (Bloomfield, Conn.), while the other, at $9.4 million, was awarded to Lockheed Martin Systems Integration (Owego, N.Y.) and partner Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. (Fort Worth, Texas). Phase II was completed in third-quarter 2004 with preliminary design review of demonstrator systems. DARPA and the Army then expect to downselect one team, which will build two demonstrator vehicles during Phase III. New UAV development also includes miniature reconnaissance UAVs, with airframes built from carbon fiber/epoxy prepreg. These craft include unmanned helicopters and winged craft small enough to be carried in a field pack and launched by a foot soldier. Composites, in fact, enjoy heavy use throughout the UAV industry. One of the longest-serving UAVs is the Hunter, now produced by Northrop Grumman Corp., Integrated systems (El Segundo, Calif.). It features carbon fiber fabric on the outer wings, woven carbon/epoxy prepreg on the central wing and spar caps. The Eagle Eye, a tilt-rotor UAV developed by Bell Helicopter Textron, features carbon/epoxy prepregs on upper and lower skins, and composites in the driveshafts that connect the turbine engine to the rotors/propellers. The Predator A, made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (San Diego, Calif.), has seen service in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq and features an all-composite construction using primarily carbon/epoxy prepregs, with fiberglass employed in the craft’s radome. One technology to keep an eye on in the UAV market is the development of specialty materials to accommodate wing morphing – the changing of wing shape, direction and orientation to suit different flying conditions and requirements. Composite skins over such wings would have to seamlessly accommodate morphing, most commonly via a shape memory polymer elongated by a heat or light trigger. These programs represent explosive growth in UAV development: More than $3 billion was invested in UAVs in the 1990s, with another $1 billion between 2000 and 2002. Worldwide value of this market segment is estimated at more than $2 billion; 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 composites industry’s fastest growing fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) application. The European Union still leads the way with the U.S. running a distant second. Together they accounted for 86 percent of the total capacity in 2005. Petroleum-poor European Union nations, having long embraced the concept of “green energy,” have 72 percent of the world’s wind turbines. Wind turbines, onshore and offshore, convert wind energy to electrical power with the aid of giant rotors, constructed with composite blades that, until recently, were manufactured almost exclusively from glass-reinforced composites. To reduce the cost of energy from wind turbines to levels competitive with coal- and gas-fired electricity production, producers have raised tower height to place turbines in stronger winds and lengthened blades to capture more wind. Today, the largest installed rotor is 80m/262.5 ft in diameter. As this strategy reaches the upper limits of practicality, designers are now embracing carbon fiber as a means to further push the design envelope and decrease the cost of energy. Compared to conventional all-fiberglass designs, composites that replace some of the glass with carbon fiber reinforcements can produce the same blade using less fiber and resin, while increasing blade stiffness, improving aerodynamics and decreasing the loads imposed by the blades on the tower and hub. Demand for carbon fiber in wind turbine blades should reach more than 4,536 metric tons (10 million lb) by the year 2008, says one supplier.

Picture: A 35m/115 ft composite wind blade undergoes trials at a lightning strike testing facility operated by wind blade manufacturer LM Glasfiber (Lundersov, Denmark). Source: LM Glasfiber

Some of the lessons learned in wind energy and aerospace environments also are being applied in water as well. The University of Naples, Italy has developed a pilot tidal turbine plant called ENERMAR that makes heavy use of carbon reinforcement and composites in airfoils (or, more appropriately, “waterfoils”) and support arms. The vertically oriented foils are 10m/33 ft long and generate electricity in a marine current of just 2 m/s (4 knots). 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 power transmission towers and distribution poles, cables and 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. 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, accounting for 15 to 18 percent of the world’s potential electrical power grid growth. 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 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.

Other markets – From ground to air, advanced materials support the space satellite and related telecommunications industries. Propellant tanks, heat sinks, optical benches and other satellite structures are among the products that require high-performance composite properties, such as thermal management, low-CTE, reduced volatile emission and vibration control, while in earth orbit. Demand should continue for PAN-based carbon fiber for EMI/RFI (electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference) and ESD (electrostatic discharge) shielding material in thin-wall electronic applications, including laptop computers and mobile phones. Industrial applications, such as large-diameter composite rollers for use in paper making, continue to capitalize on the lightweight, vibration-damping properties of advanced composites. Combinations of these materials also can provide X-ray transparency for medical products, such as mammography compression plates. Composite armor systems, particularly aramid fiber in bulletproof vests, have been available for more than 20 years. In the past decade, innovators have put aramid and other specialty fibers into vehicle armor systems and blast containment products – hardened composite luggage containers proven to completely contain certain levels of explosive force. In light of the September 2001 terrrorist attacks in the U.S., this segment of the market grew quickly as U.S. airlines and their suppliers scrambled to meet deadlines for hardened cockpit doors in new and existing aircraft, as well as cargo containers and other structures designed for blast containment and personal protection.