Composites 2019: A multitude of markets

The composites industry, in general, continued to show health and growth, powered particularly by the aerospace, automotive and wind energy sectors.
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The composites industry, in general, continued to show health and growth, powered particularly by the aerospace, automotive and wind energy sectors. Not to be overlooked however, is the marine end market, which in 2018 finally returned to pre-Great Recession health, continuing a trend begun in 2015. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the composites industry continued to make news in 2018, highlighted in March by carbon fiber specialist Toray paying $1.1 billion for thermoplastic and thermoset prepreg specialist TenCate Advanced Composites. Toray, which had little thermoplastics capability prior to the acquisition clearly saw in TenCate a chance to stake a long-term claim on viability of thermoplastic resins in high-performance composite structures.

Indeed, the entire aerospace composites supply chain has its eyes firmly set on what is expected to be a series of new aircraft manufacturing programs, starting with the Boeing 797, which has been informally announced by the company but not yet officially launched. The assumption among composites professionals is that composites will be used extensively on this aircraft; the questions are where will they be used, and what type will be used? Wings almost certainly are a good candidate for composites. Less certain, but still probable, is the fuselage. Further, if the fuselage is composite, might it be thermoplastic?

Development of thermoplastic materials and processes for aerostructures has been significant in the last decade, particularly in Europe with efforts like the Thermoplastic Affordable Primary Aircraft Structure innovation program (TAPAS), which is evaluating the use of thermoplastic composite structures in wing, fuselage and tail applications. The appeal of thermoplastics is significant as the material can be stored at room temperature, can be processed out of the autoclave and is more easily recycled. Thermoplastics, however, are hobbled by a simple lack of familiarity — the aerospace supply chain is mostly used to working with thermoset composites, thus thermoplastics represent a departure from the norm.

On the heels of the Boeing 797, it is expected that Boeing and Airbus will announce, probably in the early 2020s, a cleansheet redesign of their single-aisle stalwarts, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. This will trigger, again, a new round of material and process assessment to determine where and how composites might be used on these aircraft. The big concern with these aircraft among aerospace composites engineers is the pace of manufacturing. Airbus manufactured 55 A320s per month in 2018, and in 2019 that number will increase to 60. Boeing manufactured 52 737s per month in 2018, and in 2019 that number will increase to 57. Composite materials and manufacturing processes will have to be substantially optimized and sped up to meet this pace of manufacture. Signals from the composites industry indicate that this is possible, particularly as automated manufacturing and quality inspection systems are matured.

The mantra among automakers, when it comes to composites, continues to be “right material, right place,” which implies that composites will be applied where they make sense from a manufacturing and cost perspective. Because of this, adoption of composites automotive structures will continue to be incremental and gradual. From a composites supply chain perspective, this is beneficial. The composites industry is generally not oriented to meet the demanding pace of the automotive supply chain, so a slower integration with high-production vehicles might be the industry’s most favorable path forward.

Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, continues to intrigue composites fabricators. Activity here revolves around two basic applications: use of continuous fibers (glass and carbon) in the manufacture of production parts, and the use of large AM systems for the fabrication of composite molds and tooling. The latter has seen the most activity, with Cincinnati Inc., Thermwood and Ingersoll introducing large-format AM systems to the market. These machines allow for the manufacture of large molds or mold segments that are produced to near net shape. They are subsequently machined and sanded to net shape, and then sealed and coated to create a high-wear surface. These molds can then be used like any other composite mold — in an autoclave, in an oven, under vacuum bag and more. The advantage, of course, is reduced speed and cost of fabrication, compared to metallic or other tooling.

The ability of composites to resist corrosion is still driving the spread of composites adoption in a range of industries, particularly in so-called First World countries where infrastructure, of concrete, wood and steel, is deteriorating at a alarming rate. The annual cost of metallic corrosion alone, worldwide, is staggering. Considering the cost of maintenance, prevention, replacement of parts and interruption of services due to maintenance, the World Corrosion Organization (New York, NY, US) says that the annual cost of corrosion worldwide is US$2.2 trillion, more than 3% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). The US Department of Defense has estimated the annual cost of corrosion in military applications alone at more than US$10 billion per year.

Composites’ inherent resistance to corrosive impacts of water, salt, chemicals and the like make them attractive options in the marine world, and make them suitable replacements for metal structures that are exposed outdoors (tanks, piping, cooling towers, railcars for chemical transport and much more) or buried underground.


The world’s two largest aerospace manufacturers, once again, shared center stage as commercial aircraft stayed in the composites spotlight. Expected to be increasingly heavy users of carbon fiber composites, for primary and secondary structures, they’ll also use a mixture of glass and carbon-reinforced thermosets and thermoplastics in a growing and diverse suite of interior and semi-structural applications. 

Changes in 2018 made The Boeing Co. (Chicago, IL, US) and Airbus (Toulouse, France) duopoly even stronger through consolidation. In July 2018, Embraer (São Paulo, Brazil) established, with Boeing, a strategic joint venture (80% owned by Boeing) to accelerate aerospace growth by combining Embraer’s regional commercial craft with Boeing’s larger and longer-range portfolio. This followed the Airbus and Bombardier (Quebec, Canada) announcement in October 2017 that Airbus had acquired a 50.01% interest in the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership (CSALP), which the two companies say brings together Airbus’ global reach and scale with Bombardier’s jet aircraft family, positioning both partners to fully unlock the value of the C Series platform. At the 2018 Farnborough Air Show event, Airbus and Bombardier announced that customer JetBlue has reportedly purchased 60 Airbus A220-300s, the new designation for the former C-Series aircraft.

Both of the majors have predicted upward trends. Boeing, in its Commercial Market Outlook 2018-2037, says growth in airline passenger traffic (revenue passenger-kilometers or RPK) will be 4.7% per year.  To support this fleet growth, Boeing forecasts a need for more than 42,700 new deliveries, valued at over $6 trillion, for growth and replacement in the next 20 years to meet demand in the coming two decades. About 40% of all new aircraft will be delivered to airlines in the Asia-Pacific region (China’s passenger air travel has increased for several years at about 10% per year), says Boeing. An additional 40% will go to carriers in North America and Europe. Airlines in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa and Russia/Central Asia will demand the 22% that remains. 

Single-aisle airplanes are expected to command the largest share of new deliveries, with airlines needing more than 31,360 of them, fully 74% of the demand during the forecast period. These new airplanes will continue to stimulate growth for carriers and will provide required replacements for older, less-efficient models. Notably, Boeing sees 8,070 widebody, twin-aisle planes in its forecast, down from 2016’s forecast of 9,100. The balance will consist of regional jets (2,320) and freighters (980).

Airbus anticipates in its Global Market Forecast for 2018-2037 that air traffic will grow by 4.4% (down from last year’s forecast of 4.5%) annually and, therefore, will increase in value to nearly US$5.8 trillion, up from its 2016 estimate of US$5.2 trillion. Airbus estimates that total commercial aircraft demand by 2037 will number 37,390 units (that’s up from 33,700 predicted in 2016) — 36,560 of them for passenger service and the remainder, 830, freighters. The Asia-Pacific region will account for 42% of the demand, while the US and all of Europe will together account for 35%. About 29% of the new planes will replace aging craft, but fully 71% will fuel overall fleet growth. Single-aisle commercial jets will dominate the market, making up 76% of new units. Much more data is available in the complete Airbus Global Market Forecast for 2018-2037.

Brazil-based aircraft manufacturer Embraer Commercial Aviation (São José dos Campos, Brazil) has released its Embraer Market Outlook 2018-2037, for aircraft with less than 150 seats. The company predicts 2.9% annual growth in GDP, a 3% annual growth in the global fleet and 4.5% annual growth in RPK. The Asia-Pacific region represents the largest number of aircraft deliveries during the forecast period, at 28%. Embraer forecasts the sub-150 seat, single-aisle fleet-in-service will increase from 9,000 aircraft in 2018 to 16,000 by 2037, a 76% increase. 

A new study, as reported in Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine (AW&ST, Sept. 3-16, 2018), provides a clearer look at the overall size of the aerospace industry. The Teal Group (Fairfax, VA, US) and AeroDynamic Advisory (Ann Arbor, MI, US) collaborated on the study, which defined “aerospace” as all activities pertaining to the development, production, maintenance, and support of aircraft (commercial and defense) and spacecraft. AeroDynamic Advisory’s Kevin Michaels, who has contributed to CW in the past, reports in the AW&ST column that global aerospace is currently worth $838 billion, a larger figure than most previous estimates.

Aircraft manufacturing (including Tier 1s and sub-tiers) makes up 54% of that total figure. Maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) makes up a surprising 27% of aerospace activity. Satellites and space (7%) and UAVs (5%) make up the rest (the remaining 7% was tagged as ‘other’). Not surprisingly, the US tops the country list, comprising 49% of total market activity ($408 billion), followed by France ($69 billion) and China ($61 billion). According to Michaels, most of China’s aerospace activity is currently focused on aircraft and spacecraft for its own consumption: “China will likely surpass France for second place in the next decade.” Michaels concludes that strong air travel growth means that there’s room for growth over the next few years, and “there should be plenty of room at the table for everyone.” 

The big question for the composites industry is, will OEMs choose composite materials for narrowbody single-aisle aircraft, the fastest-growing and most popular aircraft segment? There has been much speculation about Boeing’s new mid-market airplane (NMA or 797), an aircraft not yet officially launched but that is intended to replace the 757. It is expected to be larger than the 737 MAX but smaller than the 787-8. Kevin McAllister, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes who spoke at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show, reportedly said the demand for the NMA/797 has been validated in consultations with more than 60 airlines. In the composites world, the big question is whether the NMA will have a composites fuselage and wing — design work is underway now, says McAllister. 

Experts have expressed doubt whether the composite fuselage structure that helped lightweight the 787 and increased passenger comfort by solving metal-related pressure and humidity issues, could be successfully applied to replace what would otherwise be much thinner aluminum fuselage structures on replacements for single-aisle aircraft. That concern, however, helped revive interest in already certified hybrid materials called fiber-metal laminates (FMLs), which combine metal and composite products. Designed to take advantage of the best qualities of each material class, they were developed particularly to counteract the riveted aluminum aircraft structure’s vulnerability to fatigue cracking. Pioneered by the earliest incarnation of GKN Aerospace’s (Redditch, UK) Fokker business (Papendrecht, The Netherlands), FMLs today feature alternating bonded layers of treated aluminum sheet and fiber/epoxy prepreg. The combination addresses not only the critical issue of fatigue, but also provides a means to lightweight thinner single-aisle aircraft fuselage skins, yet remain damage-resistant. 

Also on the aerospace materials front, in March 2018 the world’s largest supplier of carbon fiber, Toray (Tokyo, Japan), acquired thermoplastic composites specialist TenCate Advanced Composites (Morgan Hill, CA, US) for US$1.1 billion. Toray, which did not have any thermoplastics capability prior to the acquisition, clearly had next-generation commercial aircraft structures in mind by adding TenCate to its portfolio. Indeed, thermoplastic composites are expected to be seriously considered for use in the Boeing NMA/797 aircraft, as well as possible clean-sheet replacements for the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320. Composites use on redesigns of the 737 and the A320 will depend on fabrication processes being able to meet the production pace of these planes. Boeing and Airbus have said that they are targeting 60 planes per month (two planes a day), which looms large when compared to the production rate of the 787 (14/month) and A350 (10/month). In any case, composites seem to have earned a permanent place in commercial aerostructures.

In an increasingly global marketplace, it was probably inevitable: Denver, CO, US-based aerospace industry startup Boom Technology revealed that it is building the XB-1, a flying one-third-scale demonstrator, dubbed Baby Boom, to demonstrate the key technologies that will be used on its coming full-scale, faster-than-sound Boom commercial aircraft. Boom is one of several groups looking to replace the long-retired supersonic transport, the Concorde, jointly developed and built during the late 1960s by Aerospatiale and British Aircraft Corp. (BAC). Boom’s XB-1 and ultimately, the full-size Boom jet, will benefit from an all-composite construction that will exhibit a much lower coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) than was possible with the Concorde. (The latter’s all-aluminum airframe reportedly experienced up to 300 mm of expansion over its length due to air friction at supersonic speed.) And, reduced weight will contribute to the Boom jet’s operational efficiencies. As a result, the company predicts its jet will serve customers at ticket prices one quarter that of those charged for the Concorde (in today’s dollars) and shave 45 minutes from the Concorde’s fabled four-hour New York City-to-London flight time. The Baby Boom is now scheduled to fly in late 2019.





The automotive industry continues to develop composites for lightweighting vehicles, driven by fuel economy and emissions regulations:

  • Current US corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards mandate a fleet average of 54.5 mpg (23.2 km/L) by 2025 (Editor’s note: The Trump Administration has proposed to reduce the US CAFE standards; his proposal, at this writing in early October 2018, is in the public comment phase.);
  • China’s Corporate Average Fuel Consumption (CAFC) sets a fleet target of 20 km/L by 2020
  • EU emissions regulations mandate a mere 95 g/km of CO2 by 2021, with another 15% reduction by 2025, and in 2030, a further 30% reduction from 2021.

The market for carbon fiber in automotive applications was estimated at more than 7,000 metric tons (MT) per year by Chris Red of Composites Forecasts and Consulting LLC (Mesa, AZ, US) at CW’s Carbon Fiber 2017 conference, with more than 100 models currently specifying carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) for OEM components. He projects this market will grow to almost 11,000 MT by 2025.

China is now the number one automotive market, with 300 million cars on the road (vs. 270 million in the US) and production of 24.8 million vehicles in 2017, compared to 11.2 million in the US, 8.4 million in Japan, almost 5.7 million in Germany, and 4 million and 3.7 million in India and South Korea, respectively. Thus, it is not surprising that development of composite structures used in actual series production vehicles — not just high-end options or concept/prototype models — is being led by Europe and Asia. Composites development announcements in China in 2018 included:

  • Magna Exteriors formed a joint venture with GAC Component Co. Ltd. (GACC, Guangzhou, China) to begin production of thermoplastic composite (TPC) liftgates for a global automaker's crossover vehicle starting in late 2018.
  • Kangde Group (Hong Kong) entered an agreement with BAIC Motor to build an Industry 4.0 smart factory in Changzhou to produce CFRP car body and other components beginning in 2019 and scaling to 6 million parts/yr — its 66,000 MT/yr carbon fiber facility in Rongcheng will begin production in 2023.
  • HRC (Shanghai, China) commissioned the first Rapid Multi-injection Compression Process (RMCP) automated composites production line from Carbures (El Puerto de Santa María, Spain).
  • Volvo’s new, separately branded electric high-performance car company Polestar will start production of its first model, Polestar 1, in 2019 in the new Polestar Production Centre in Chengdu.

That said, 2018 saw the unveiling of the industry’s first carbon fiber composite pickup box, by General Motors (GM, Detoit, MI, US). The first-ever composite bed for a full-size truck was actually built by GM in 2001, but the take-up rate on the Silverado and Sierra Pro-Tec box option was only 10% of what GM expected. Thus, it waited more than 15 years to try again. The CarbonPro pickup box, again an option, but for the 2019 GMC Sierra Denali, was developed with Teijin Automotive (Tokyo, Japan), which acquired Continental Structural Plastics (CSP, Auburn Hills, MI, US) in 2017. CSP has years of experience manufacturing composite boxes for the Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma trucks, both made from chopped glass fiber sheet molding compound (SMC). The first-generation Honda bed was 30% lighter than steel when it debuted in 2005, but its 2017 update switched away from SMC in two of the components, opting for a direct long-fiber thermoplastic (D-LFT) for the sidewalls and headboard and for a short-fiber compound for the spare tire tray, both injection molded using glass fiber and polypropylene (PP). The 2019 GMC CarbonPro box will also use thermoplastic composites, opting for Teijin’s Sereebo process, which combines a mat of 20-mm-long carbon fibers with a nylon 6 thermoplastic that is compression molded for part cycle times of 60-80 seconds.

This growing trend toward use of thermoplastics in automotive composites is aided by processes such as overmolding, where blanks made of woven or unidirectional fibers in a thermoplastic matrix — known as organosheet — are compression molded into a 3D shape while reinforced plastic is injection molded on top and around to form complex-geometry ribs, bosses, inserts and attachment points. One example is a production Porsche 918 Spyder brake pedal made using a glass fiber/polyamide (PA) organosheet overmolded with a 60% long-glass fiber PA6 compound. Other parts in development or production include seat backs, seat rests, backseat load-through components, airbag housings, B pillars, door cross beams, bumper beams and large floor components.

Another trend is the growing use of unidirectional (UD) tapes to reduce waste vs. woven or noncrimp fabric (NCF) reinforcements. Because the tapes can be cut and placed precisely, very little scrap is produced. The most notable example in 2018 was the CFRP rear wall for the Audi A8 luxury sedan made in a fully automated, Industry 4.0 production line by Voith Composites (Garching, Germany). Offering a 50% weight reduction vs. three to five welded aluminum parts and providing 33% of the drive cell’s torsional stiffness, the rear wall begins with Zoltek (St, Louis, MO, US) 35K carbon fiber. It is spread into bindered, 50-mm-wide UD tape that is then cut to various lengths and applied at specified angles on a rotary table to form a tailored blank, all in a single machine — the Voith Roving Applicator. The blank varies from a base of six plies up to 19 plies where local reinforcement is added, and a thickness of 1.5-3.7 mm. It is then shaped into a 3D preform in a heated press supplied by FILL (Gurten, Austria) which adapts the pressure applied as it stamp-forms separate regions of the preform clamped in the forming tool made by ALPEX Technologies (Mils bei Hall, Austria). The completed preform is then injected with resin and press-molded using the Audi-developed Ultra-RTM process, which uses less than 15 bar of pressure vs. 140 bar common for high-pressure RTM (HP-RTM). Thus, only 350 kN of press force is needed vs. 2,500 for HP-RTM. Although the VORAFORCE 5300 epoxy resin cures in 90-120 seconds at 120°C, the total part cycle time is 5 minutes.

Another alternative to HP-RTM is wet compression molding (also called liquid compression molding), which does use snap-cure resins and NCF but also lower pressure. Instead of injecting resin into the preform, automated equipment spreads resin over the fabric and then transfers this into a thermoforming press. Eliminating the preforming step and offering cycle times less than 90 seconds and less-expensive equipment, BMW has predicted a significant increase in wet-pressed parts. Huntsman Advanced Materials (Basel, Switzerland) has developed a next-generation process called dynamic fluid compression molding (DFCM) which claims fiber volumes up to 65% and the ability to mold more complex geometries.

For exteriors, ultra-lightweight SMC continues its push below 1.0 g/cc and carbon fiber is also gaining ground, with Polynt-Reichhold (Scanzorosciate, Italy), Aliancys (Schaffhausen, Switzerland) and CSP all adding new SMC production lines over the past few years which have the ability to make carbon fiber SMC. Polynt has also introduced Polynt-RECarbon recycled fiber SMC to its product offerings, as well as UDCarbon and TXTCarbon compounds featuring unidirectional and fabric reinforcements, respectively. The potential for these products can be seen in the front subframe development project completed by Magna International (Aurora, ON, Canada) and Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI, US), which uses locally reinforced and co-molded chopped carbon fiber SMC with patches of SMC made with carbon fiber 0°/90° NCF. This SMC structural subframe must handle significant loads, supporting the engine and chassis components, including the steering gear and the lower control arms that hold the wheels. Though only a development part, it achieved 82% parts reduction, replacing 54 stamped steel parts with two compression molded composite components and six overmolded stainless steel inserts, while cutting weight by 34%.

Hybridizing SMC with prepreg is an approach used this year by Ford’s global Research and Advanced Engineering group, teamed with its Chassis Engineering group in the UK to redesign a production steel suspension knuckle for a C-class vehicle. By co-molding layers of woven carbon fabric prepreg with chopped carbon fiber SMC, a complex-shaped, high-performance suspension knuckle was produced with a cycle time of less than 5 minutes and a 50% weight reduction. Other developments include Saint Jean Industries (Saint Jean D’Ardières, France) and Hexcel (Stamford, CT, US) developing a hybrid carbon fiber/aluminum version of a performance car suspension knuckle, which increased stiffness by 26% vs. an all-aluminum knuckle. Meanwhile, Williams Advanced Engineering (Grove, Oxfordshire, UK) has developed a CFRP wishbone that uses unidirectional carbon fiber and recycled carbon fiber nonwoven mat — up to 80% of the composite part, by weight — to cut weight 40% vs. conventional aluminum versions, yet its cost is comparable to aluminum forgings. The part is molded in 90 seconds using an HP-RTM process called RACETRAK for a 5-minute total cycle time, including layup.

Other trends to watch include CFRP wheels for production models — once production cost and cycle time can be sufficiently reduced — and continued development of hybrid composite-metal components.

Boatbuilding & Marine

The National Marine Manufacturers Assn. (NMMA, Chicago, IL, US) reported in 2018 that unit sales of new powerboats increased 5% in 2017, reaching 262,000, the highest level in a decade for the U.S. recreational boating industry. NMMA predicts 5-6% growth again by the end of 2018 and noted that boat manufacturers are expanding capacity to meet this demand — building new plants and increasing production. NMMA’s top trends for 2018 include:

  • Versatile family-fun boats: More accessible and versatile watercraft are being built to attract new and younger boaters. Sales were projected to increase 5-8% for ski and wake boats, pontoon boats and personal watercraft.
  • Fishing boats: These continue to be a major driver of the industry’s sustained momentum. Saltwater and freshwater fishing boat sales were projected to increase 2-4%.
  • Cruisers: Sales of boats 22-32 ft long continue trending upward, with projected gains of 9-10%.

Other trends include larger production boats powered by outboard engines (vs. inboard diesel engines) and increasing use of carbon fiber, epoxy resin and 3D printing. According to the Jan 2018 Trade Only Today article “Big-outboard market roars,” the number of outboard-powered boats more than 40 ft long, each with at least three or four engines clamped to the transom, is increasing. Examples include Scout Boats’ (Summerville, SC, US) 530 LXF (53-ft), HCB Yachts’ (Vonore, TN, US) 53-ft Sueños and 65-ft Estrella center consoles, while Midnight Express (Miami, FL, US) has unveiled its 60-ft Pied-A-Mer. Outboards are chosen for their light weight and reduced requirement for systems and space inside the hull. Just like in cars, space in boats is at a premium.

The increasing size and number of outboards per boat is driving the need for reduced weight in composite hulls and decks, but without sacrificing performance. The latter means not only long-term durability in the water but higher speeds and resistance to wave-slamming loads, as well as heat resistance beneath dark paint colors, which continue to be popular. Carbon fiber and epoxy provide a particularly effective combination, and, in fact, are used on Scout’s 530 LXF and 420 LXF models, made with resin infusion. Carbon fiber is also used in HCB’s Estrella. Hinckley Yachts (Southwest Harbor, ME, US), renowned luxury production builder and longtime veteran of resin infusion, has begun switching all of its sailing and power models to epoxy, while its new 40-ft Sport Boat models and Dasher fully electric motor yacht both feature CF/epoxy construction. Note, however, that these brands represent the high end of the market. Boats priced in the middle of the market typically use glass fiber and vinyl ester resin, though resin infusion has become much more common. Polyester resin is still used for the lowest-priced boats. Carbon fiber is creeping into medium-priced boats, used to cap hull stringers and in accessories like hard tops where owners are willing to pay for higher-priced options.

As Hinckley’s Dasher demonstrates, electric propulsion is another trend that is beginning to take hold. Electric-drive boats have been heralded as “the future” for some time, and were actually the norm for powerboats before the 1930s. However, with battery and hybrid power technologies dropping in cost thanks to the auto industry’s continued development, sailboats and smaller, cruising power boats are likely candidates for getting rid of the tanks, fumes and environmental impact of fossil fuels. The trend is expected to gain more momentum as reliable cruising range and speed are established. Most docks already have electrical power for recharging.

A project reiterating this point is the all-composite hydrofoiling watercraft developed by SeaBubbles (Paris, France) with support from composites fabricator Décision SA (Ecublens, Switzerland) and Sicomin Epoxy Systems (Chateauneuf les Martigues, France). This eco-conscious taxi transport solution for the world’s urban waterways is based on a hydrofoil design that allows the watercraft to glide silently above the water when it exceeds 12 kph. A clean-charging electric drive system converts solar, wind and water power so the vessel does not generate any CO2 emissions. Already installed on the River Seine in Paris, the technology’s makers hope to spread SeaBubbles to more than 50 waterway-rich cities worldwide.

Another trend is the growing use of 3D printing in marine. Already, high-end yachts are using 3D-printed parts. For example, Hinckley’s Dasher electric features a stylish console supported by six parts that nest and interlock, 3D printed in partnership with the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center (Orono, ME, US). According to Hinckley’s director of engineering Scott Bryant, the tight-tolerance pieces would have been hard to produce with traditional molded fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) due to resin shrinkage.

Meanwhile, the world’s first 3D printed boat is a 6.5m-long and 3m-wide Mini 650 sailing yacht, designed by Livrea Yachts (Palermo, Italy) and built by sister company Ocore in partnership with Autodesk (San Rafael, CA, US), Lehvoss Group (Hamburg, Germany) and Kuka Robotics (Augsburg, Germany).

While printing boat structures is just at its beginning, the move toward 3D-printed molds is continuing to gain momentum. Projects completed include a boat hull pattern by Marine Concepts (Cape Coral, FL, US) and a 10.4m-long hull construction mold by Xplora Yachts (Kirkland, WA, US). The Marine Concepts pattern was a collaborative proof-of-concept project with Thermwood Corp. (Dale, IN, US) and custom compounder Techmer PM (Clinton, TN, US). The pattern was 3D printed slightly oversized, over roughly 30 hours, and subsequently trimmed to net size and shape, using Thermwood’s trademarked Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing (LSAM) system. The printed material was Techmer’s trademarked Electra l ABS LT1 3DP. The final tool was printed in six sections, four major center sections with walls approximately 38 mm thick and a solid printed transom and bow. Sections were pinned and bonded together using a Lord Corp. (Cary, NC, US) plural-component urethane adhesive. The assembled pattern was then machined as a single piece on the same Thermwood system in about 50 hours. The entire print, assembly and trim process reportedly required fewer than 10 working days. The pattern was subsequently used to pull a fully functional production hull mold made with conventional fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) molding methods.

The Xplora Yachts hull construction mold was 3D-printed start to finish, in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN, US) using its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine. Although three mold sections could be printed simultaneously in 12 hours, all 12 sections of the mold were printed over a five-day period, using 2,495 kg of 20% chopped carbon fiber/ABS Electrafil J-1200 from Techmer PM at $11/kg for a total material cost of $27,500. The sections were printed with an extra 3.8 mm of material which was later machined to a smooth surface. Rods were assembled cross- and length-wise to build the sections with Ashland’s (Dublin, OH, US) Pliogrip Plastic Repair 10 epoxy applied to the seams. Designed for ABS, the epoxy adhesive’s 60-min cure time allowed alignment adjustments during assembly. Assembly was completed in three hours and the adhesive cured within 24 hours. A Faro (Lake Mary, FL, US) laser-tracking system was used to compare the mold surface to original CAD data and showed an average deviation of < 1.27 mm. After being sanded and coated with tooling gelcoat and mold release, the mold was used to resin infuse a prototype E-glass and Kevlar foam-cored hull.

Civil Infrastructure

The US House Subcommittee on Research and Technology held a hearing in April of 2018 on the role of composite materials in infrastructure development. The goals of the hearing were to review a report from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, Gaithersburg, MD, US) which focused on overcoming obstacles to adopting composites for infrastructure projects, to discuss the value of developing standards for composites in infrastructure applications, and to examine composites as an alternative or supplement to conventional materials.

And then in August 2018 the US Congress introduced new legislation to encourage research and deployment of innovative construction techniques and materials in transportation and water infrastructure projects nationwide. The legislative bill, known as the Innovative Materials for America's Growth and Infrastructure Newly Expanded (or IMAGINE), is designed to promote the use of innovative materials like FRP composites, as well as new manufacturing methods to speed up deployment and extend the life of infrastructure projects.

Aging infrastructure offers a potentially huge market for composite materials. According to the US Department of Transportation, there currently are more than 54,000 structurally deficient highway bridges that require rehabilitation or replacement — a number that has declined by only 0.5% since 2015. 2018 saw several bridge renovations — for both foot and vehicle traffic — that involve reinforcement with FRP.



In April, anFRP sidewalk system from Composite Advantage (Dayton, OH, US) was used to replace an aging pedestrian bridge walkway in Albany, NY, US. The pedway supports daily foot traffic of nearly 700 state employees. The company also unveiled a new line of FRP trail bridges.

In July, a rebuild of Rugg Bridge on Route 57 in Sandisfield, MA, US, was completed using the company’s FiberSPAN bridge deck. The structure is a pony truss bridge that has been in service since 1938. A steel grid/concrete deck weighing 60 lb/ftcreated a dead load that was too heavy for the aged structure. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT, Boston, MA, US) chose Composite Advantage’s FiberSPAN fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composite decking based on its track record with another state project — the Haverhill’s Rocks Village vehicle bridge, which was rehabilitated in 2013. Inspections of the Haverhill’s Rocks Village bridge since the deck’s installation have found panel-to-panel joints, span joints and wear surface in like-new condition.


In Europe, those responsible for replacing civil infrastructure have taken more readily to composites. Infrastructure composites specialist FiberCore Europe (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), for one example, has fabricated and installed more than 500 composite bridge structures since 2008, as well as lock gates for shipping canals. In Scotland, a project headed by Strongwell’s (Bristol, VA, US) European distributor Pipex px (Plymouth, UK) used FRP to fabricate two important footbridges. One is located in the Craigendunton Reservoir, which covers approximately 24 acres and provides drinking water as well as supporting a recreational trout fishery. The second bridge is located in the Loch Craig Reservoir, of 65 acres. Both footbridges serve as vital means of access to water control valves at each individual reservoir. Strongwell’s EXTREN structural tubes, angles and plates were employed to give the bridges corrosion resistance and structural durability. The company’s SAFPLANK fiberglass planking with an epoxy, anti-skid surface was then used as a long-lasting pedestrian flooring solution. The life expectancy of both bridges is now expected to be more than 60 years.


The United Nations foresees a deepening global housing crisis — more than 440 million urban households will be in need of affordable accommodation by 2025. But conservationists warn that the sustainability of Earth’s forests, the source of the lumber to build those accommodations, is at serious risk. This conflict has done much to pique interest in fast-build construction technologies based on fiber-reinforced composites. As the new century’s second decade nears its end, composite manufacturers’ efforts in the housing arena are picking up speed. CW reported, for example, on the recent international growth of MVC Plásticos’ (Sao Jose dos Pinhais, Brazil) locally grown MVC Wall System in 2016. But many such solutions must enter the market if the construction industry is to make inroads into residential construction and homebuilders are to appreciate the value that lightweight, energy-efficient composite technologies can offer.

Of course, composites use in construction is not limited to fast-build residential applications. Architects around the world are applying composites in a variety of ways now, ranging from curtain wall panels to roofing systems. Notable cases of these include the Apple store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, IL, US, located on North Michigan Ave. at the Chicago River. The store, mostly subterranean, features a massive carbon fiber composite roof supported by four interior pillars. It tops an enclosure formed by a 32-ft ground-to-ceiling, all-glass façade. The roof, which measures 111 ft by 98 ft, was manufactured by notable composites manufacturer Premier Composite Technologies (PCT, Dubai, UAE). And in San Francisco, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) features a white, glass fiber composite, fire-resistant, highly contoured external cladding system developed by Kreysler & Assoc. (American Canyon, CA, US) that gives the museum its modern, flowing appearance. 

Also being explored further in construction applications is the use of composites reinforcement in wood beam structures. One exemplar of this concept is a library design competition in Varna, Bulgaria, that featured a submission which included a 46m, tree-like wood/carbon composite structural façade, undertaken in cooperation with Archicoplex (Tokyo, Japan) and that firm’s architect Daisuke Hirose. The design features a laminate made up of stacked, high-quality, straight, fine-grain wood veneers, kiln-dried for moisture control. These are then glue-laminated into preformed shapes, based on the position they occupy in the façade. Multiple unidirectional carbon fabrics would then be adhered to this wood laminate core, forming a sandwich structure to impart structural strength for bearing loads and preventing delamination. 

And in the US, at Clemson University, assistant professor of architecture Joseph Choma is working on foldable composite structures for construction applications. The concept of foldable composites is simple: Take a dry fiber reinforcement fabric, mask off seams to create fold points, infuse the unmasked fabric with resin, and cure the resin. The result is a composite laminate with uncured, soft seams that allow the entire structure to be folded for easy transport and installation on site. And after the entire laminate is installed, the dry seams can be infused with resin to solidify the entire structure. Choma and his students have already developed several structures in public walking areas on the Clemson campus so that students can see the material up close. Choma hopes to migrate the material and technology into a commercial application.

Industrial applications

Although the use of composites in high-performance end markets like aerospace and automotive often receive most of the industry’s attention, the fact is that most of the composite materials consumed are applied to non-high-performance parts. The industrial end market falls into that category, and here material performance often emphasizes corrosion resistance and durability, particularly in applications involving the storage of chemicals and gases. 

Indeed, composite storage tanks are proving increasingly valuable in several geographic regions. In South America, Tecniplas (Sao Paulo, Brazil) has developed a strong reputation for the fabrication of large composite storage tanks that contain everything from water to fertilizers to industrial solvents. In the US, Ershigs (Bellingham, WA, US) has established its own niche as a supplier of composite tanks, piping, ducts and scrubbers. 

Fibrelite (Skipton, North Yorkshire, UK) revealed in 2018 a variety of products for the manhole cover and trench cover market. In 2014, Fibrelite teamed with precast concrete trench manufacturer Trenwa Inc. (Ft. Thomas, KY, US) in a strategic partnership to create a combined product offering: Trenwa’s heavy-duty precast concrete road crossing trenches topped with Fibrelite’s traffic-rated composite trench covers. Together the two products provide long-term protection for underground utilities running across road crossings, while enabling safe and fast manual access for monitoring and maintenance. Since the partnership began, Trenwa has sold more than 100 precast trench systems integrating Fibrelite composite trench covers, for use in electrical substations, wastewater treatment plants, chemical refineries and many other applications across North America.

Also emerging is the increased use of composites in tanks used to store cryogenic liquids. Along these lines, Cimarron Composites (Huntsville, AL, US) announced in 2018 that it had made a leap forward in all-composite cryogenic tank development, achieving 15,000 micro-strain performance with a carbon fiber-reinforced composite tank in a pressurized liquid nitrogen environment. Successful operation at such a high strain level allows the linerless composite tank structure, made with a mixture of textiles and continuous wound fibers, to be much thinner than what was previously needed in these types of tanks, without the cost and mass of the liner. According to Cimarron, earlier composite tank programs were limited to 3,000 micro-strain due to materials and processing limitations, and this resulted in extra mass. Cimarron’s new tank technology uses a material system that performs well at extremely low temperatures without developing the microcracks that create leak paths for fluids like liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen or liquid methane.


Glass fiber/epoxy laminates have been the foundational structural substrate in printed circuit boards (PCBs) for decades. These iconic thin, green “cards” support the transistors, resistors and integrated circuits at the heart of almost all digital technologies and connect them electrically via conductive pathways etched or printed on their surfaces. Multilayer PCBs are made by interleaving copper clad (and etched) laminates with high resin content (HRC) prepreg layers and then compressing into an integrated structure. Holes are then drilled and plated with copper to create vias connecting the etched circuits within. The cores serve as the structural units while the HRC prepreg provides dielectric insulation between adjacent layers of copper circuits.

According to industry sources, the global PCB market was valued at US$63.1 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach US$76.9 billion by 2024, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1%. Market growth factors for the PCB market include increased adoption of automation in various end-user industries, increased demand for wireless devices, increasing miniaturization of devices, the need for increased efficiency of interconnect solutions and increased demand for flexible circuits.

Glass/epoxy’s dominance, however, has been under challenge as many of these trends — notably, toward miniaturization, better thermal management, increased speed and performance, and 3D printing — force PCB manufacturers to re-examine their material options. And circuit boards are not the only components where new materials are being used.

For example, Samsung’s (Seoul, South Korea) new Galaxy Note9, which launched in 2018, employs a Water Carbon Cooling system, which is said to allow the phone to run smoothly during heavy use. According to Samsung, the cooling system uses a heat pipe, or “thermal spreader,” to use changes in the phases of water to efficiently radiate heat. First, a porous structure filled with water absorbs the heat, then the water is turned into steam and moved through pipes. The steam then begins to cool and turns back into water and the process begins again, dispelling more heat with each subsequent cycle. The Galaxy Note9 has a larger heat pipe than its predecessor and also benefits from an enhanced carbon fiber TIM (thermal interface material) that is said to transfer heat from the processor to the thermal spreader with 3.5 times greater efficiency, boosting thermal conductivity and helping to prevent overheating.

At the time of this writing, there were reports that Honor’s upcoming Honor Magic 2 phone could feature graphene batteries. The graphene technology is expected to assist in dissipating heat and also increase the life of the battery.

DuPont Electronics & Imaging (Wilmington, DE, US) is launching its second generation of In-Mold Electronic (IME) materials. IME technology enables functions such as touch controls and lighting to be directly embedded inside of plastic parts by printing circuits onto plastic sheets, which are then thermoformed and injection molded. This is said to allow product engineers to reduce weight and cost while increasing design aesthetics and functionality in everything from car dashboards to home appliances, using fewer parts and manufacturing steps. Second generation advancements in the technology include a new electrically conductive adhesive that is more flexible than epoxy-based systems, a protection encapsulant for use as tie-coat and top seal, and crossover dielectric that reduces the number of layers required.

Fuel cells & batteries


Composites can make up the bipolar plates, end plates, fuel tanks and other system components of proton exchange membrane fuel-cell (PEMFC) systems, still the leading type. In the past, thermoset materials were thought to be limited to lower volume and stationary applications, due to their longer mold cycle times, higher scrap rates and an inability to produce molded composite plates as thin as stamped metal plates. More recently, however, these issues have been overcome, providing a clear advantage for composites over metals in high-temperature and low-temperature PEMFCs where power density is a secondary requirement. Chopped carbon fiber and graphite-filled/vinyl ester bulk molding compounds (BMCs) are finding wide use in bipolar plates for low-temperature PEMFCs. BMC cost has declined significantly as volumes have increased. Similarly, molding cycles once measured in minutes are now routinely completed in seconds, due to formulation improvements and the ability to make thinner plate cross sections.

Chopped carbon fiber is also finding use as a porous paper backing material for gas diffusion layers in PEMFCs. Prepared by wet-laying chopped PAN-based fibers, these can be manufactured in high volumes and low thickness. SGL’s (Wiesbaden, Germany) SIGRACET gas diffusion layers are being used by Hyundai Motor Group’s (Seoul, South Korea) new NEXO fuel-cell vehicle. Accordingly, SGL has increased SIGRACET production at its Meitingen facility.

Toyota Motor Corp. (Tokyo, Japan) began selling its Sora fuel cell bus in March 2018, and it was the first such vehicle to receive type certification in Japan. The company plans to introduce more than 100 Sora fuel cell buses in Tokyo, ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020. Teijin Carbon (Tokyo, Japan) announced it has developed a multi-material roof cover for the Sora comprising carbon fiber composites, aluminum and engineered plastics. The part is manufactured in one piece with complex shapes and is suitable for mass production.

Meanwhile, the first hydrogen fuel cell passenger boat in the US was announced in July 2018. Bay Ship and Yacht Co. (Alameda, CA, US) has the contract to build the vessel for Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine (GGZEM, Alameda, CA, US) and expects it to be delivered and in service by September 2019. Power is generated by 360 kW of Hydrogenics (Mississauga, Canada) proton exchange membrane fuel cells and lithium-ion battery packs. Hydrogen tanks from Hexagon Composites (Alesund, Norway) installed on the upper deck contain enough hydrogen to provide energy for up to two days between refueling. 

Hydrogen tanks are indeed the largest opportunity for composites with fuel cells. At CW’s Carbon Fiber 2017 conference, Chris Red of Composites Forecasts and Consulting LLC (Mesa, AZ, US) predicted that the demand for carbon fiber in composite pressure vessels will grow from 5.4 metric tonnes (MT) per year in 2016 to 26 MT/yr in 2021 and 45 MT/yr by 2025. At this 2025 volume, composite CNG and hydrogen cylinders for fuel cell vehicles will consume almost as much carbon fiber as projected for wind turbine blades, 50% more than forecast for automotive, rail and other ground transportation chassis and body components, and twice what is estimated for aerospace. Red cited forecasts for 2.1 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to be produced from 2016 to 2025, corresponding to 3 million pressure vessels.

Type IV composite pressure vessels used to store hydrogen are made by filament winding carbon fiber and epoxy over a plastic liner. Highly automated turnkey tank production lines are designed and produced by composites equipment suppliers including MIKROSAM (Prilep, Macedonia) and Roth Composite Machinery (Steffenberg, Germany), with the latter claiming it has accelerated hydrogen tank production 5-10 times with its new Rothawin technology. Hexagon Composites is the leading producer, manufacturing composite hydrogen tanks for cars and light vehicles in Raufoss, Norway, and Kassel, Germany, and tanks for its mobile pipeline system as well as for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses in Lincoln, NE, US.

Even though Hexagon Composites claims that hydrogen fuel cells can provide power systems that are more lightweight and economical than many of the alternatives being developed, the automotive industry, for now, continues to put more of its eggs in the battery power basket. Though some market analysts claim composites are not needed for battery electric vehicles, others disagree.

One company showing the way is Williams Advanced Engineering (Grove, Oxfordshire, UK), which developed structural CFRP battery box enclosures for its lightweight and scalable FW-EVX vehicle platform. Located within the car’s aluminum and CFRP monocoque are 38 battery modules, providing the EV’s power. Each 136-mm-wide battery module contains 10 pouch-type lithium ion batteries stacked and protected within a CFRP box. The boxes are positioned and secured together to provide significant torsional and bending stiffness through the monocoque, which allows designers to reduce weight in other structures, increasing the vehicle’s fuel economy and performance.

Oil & gas

Oceans are Earth’s largest naturally occurring corrosive environment, thanks to salt in seawater. Compound that with man-made multipliers, such as high temperatures and pressures and the host of aggressive chemicals, solvents and other fluids required to operate an offshore oil rig, and that’s a recipe for conditions that, over time, can be deleterious to almost any material, but especially to metals. 

Not surprisingly, inherently corrosion-resistant composite materials have increasingly been used to mold previously metal parts deployed in a host of offshore drilling platform applications. These include non-load-bearing topside platform components, such as fire-water mains, high- and low-pressure tubing, processing vessels and tanks, fire-blast panels, gratings and handrails, as well as newer subsea structures, such as carbon fiber rod umbilicals and components for protecting wellheads, manifolds and other equipment related to subsea processing. Composites also are making tentative inroads into higher volume, more demanding offshore oil and gas applications, such as the systems of pipes with which producers explore for oil, find it and eventually bring it up from the wellhead to the surface. Although many are still in development — a process that includes a lengthy and rigorous qualification phase — the impetus behind this R&D is seen by most everyone in the industry as significant. The question is not if but when offshore oil operators will be compelled to make greater use of lightweight composites in structural undersea pipelines. This question is all the more critical as exploration companies develop subsea oil fields at greater distances from shore and do so at unprecedented depths. In 2003 in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, only 35% of production was from wells at depths of more than 300m. By 2015, that figure was 95%. More to the point, more than 20% of Gulf wells are now at depths greater than 2000m. At these depths, traditional steel pipe systems pose serious logistical problems and tally huge costs. 

In March 2018, TechnipFMC (Paris, France) announced a partnership with Magma Global Ltd. (Portsmouth, UK) to develop a new carbon fiber composite hybrid flexible pipe (HFP) for use in offshore applications. HFP is expected to provide increased strength and fatigue performance, while also achieving dramatic weight and cost reductions, for subsea fluid transport applications.

In June 2018, Airborne Oil & Gas (AOG, IJmuiden, The Netherlands) began a qualification program of a thermoplastic composite pipe (TCP) riser that aims to provide a disruptive new riser pipe technology for operators, with international deepwater applications. 

Meanwhile, an unprecedented US onshore energy boom during the past decade has brought the country to near fossil-fuel energy independence and put composite manufacturers to work producing a new, expendable well technology. Credit goes to a composites-aided technology called hydraulic fracturing, often termed “fracking” or, more correctly, “frac’ing.” The process fractures low-permeability rock strata with explosives and then injects pressurized, sand-laced solutions into those fractures to facilitate oil and natural gas extraction. Each wellbore requires 10-40 multi-component tools called “frac plugs” (and accompanying “frac balls”) to stimulate multiple oil- or gas-producing layers, or “stages.” Demand is high for these critical parts, which are typically made with composites. In 2014 it was estimated that demand for these downhole parts exceed more than 20,000 parts per week. According to the US Energy Information Administration (Washington, DC, US), in 2018 the total number of active oil and gas rigs working to drill new wells in the US averaged 1,013, keeping the total count for 2018 on track to be the highest since 2014. Reportedly, in 2016, hydraulically fractured horizontal wells accounted for 69% of all oil and natural gas wells drilled in the US — about 670,000 of the 977,000 producing wells were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled.

In July 2018, Exel Composites’ (Vantaa, Finland) company Diversified Structural Composites (DSC) developed a fiber-optic-embedded carbon fiber composite rod for Ziebel’s (Tananger, Norway) well intervention system. The DSC-manufactured 6.2-km-long, 15-mm-diameter carbon fiber rod (the Z-Rod), is designed to deliver multiple fiber optic cables securely into a hostile downhole environment. Typically, the rod is deployed into a producing or injecting well for 48 hours, where the fiber optic sensors measure temperature and acoustic vibrations along its length. This enables a variety of applications — including flow allocation, fluid movement visualization, leak detection and stimulation fluid monitoring — which are valuable for optimal well and reservoir management.

Pressure vessels

High-pressure gas storage vessels represent one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for advanced composites. Although they are used in self-contained breathing apparatuses and provide oxygen and gas storage on aerospace vehicles, the primary end-markets for composite-reinforced pressure vessels are bulk transportation of compressed natural gas (CNG) products, and fuel storage in passenger cars, buses and trucks with powertrains dependent on CNG and hydrogen alternatives to gasoline and diesel. 


Seven years ago, the world’s natural gas-powered vehicles (NGVs) — cars, trucks, buses, and fork-lift vehicles — numbered about 10 million. By 2023, the NGV population could be more than 65 million. Based on strong demand in Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Iran, Italy and Pakistan, NGV deliveries could reach nearly 11 million per year by 2023. The vast majority (94%) of these NGVs are expected to be equipped with high-pressure (200+ bar) fuel storage systems.

Although past promises about the marketability of pressure vessels for hydrogen (H2) storage in automobile fuel-cell powered drivetrains systems were received with well-deserved skepticism, 13 automotive OEMs have fielded FCV demonstrators and test fleets. The number of new-build FCVs was up to 4,000 in 2014 and, says Composite Forecasts’ Chris Red, it is plausible that annual production could climb to approximately 200,000 vehicles per year by 2023. This would create sizeable demand for high-pressure hydrogen storage tanks. Further, demand for much larger vessels, for use in over-the-road and water transport of gases, is growing. 

A growing and likely huge, sustainable market for pressure vessels is the construction of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plants. SWRO depends on membrane systems that serially cleanse water piped onshore from the ocean (see “Utility Infrastructure”). These membranes must be encased in membrane housings. Filament-wound fiberglass pressure vessels are used almost exclusively for this purpose today, in quantities of as many as 6,000 per desalination plant. The Freedonia Group (Cleveland, Ohio) predicts demand for SWRO housings and related equipment will increase 6.9% per year. In the US alone, the market was worth about US$495 million in 2017.

Linerless, all-composite pressure vessels, which fit the more recent and radical Type V classification and are best able to reduce mass in weight-sensitive applications, are the goal for a number of pressure vessel manufacturers. Infinite Composites Technologies (ICT), Tulsa, OK, US) offers one of a growing number of Type V vessels coming to market. The company’s patented infinite composite pressure vessel or infiniteCPV (iCPV), an all-composite design, enables users to take advantage of the maximum fuel storage capacity by reducing vessel weight. The iCPV provides 10% more usable volume and reduces vessel weight by 90% compared to conventional vessels. And while the company has a focus on developing next-generation fuel storage and delivery systems for natural gas vehicles and storage applications, it also hopes to introduce its Type V tank technologies to the commercial space industry. 

Renewable energy

Wind energy continues to dominate in this segment and remains, far and away, the world’s largest market for glass fiber-reinforced composites. It’s also competing with other heavy users, such as the aerospace industry, for carbon fiber use as blades get longer and blade builders look for ways to lightweight the massive structures without performance sacrifices. Wind turbine blades remain a key market segment for composites.

According to a report titled “Wind Turbine Composite Materials Market (Type: Glass Fiber, Carbon Fiber, Others; Application: Wind Blade, Nacelle, Tower, Base, Others; Manufacturing Process: Resin Infusion Technology, Prepreg, Hand Lay-up, Others) – Global Industry Analysis, Market Size, Opportunities and Forecast, 2017 – 2023” by Acumen Research and Consulting (Maharashtra, India), the global market for wind turbine composite materials could value more than US$12 billion by 2023 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.6% until 2023.

In the US, wind power is booming despite facing year four of a five-year phase-down of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) on which the industry was once dependent for its financial security. According to a report by the American Wind Energy Assn. (AWEA, Washington, DC, US), the US wind industry installed 7,017 MW of new capacity in 2017, growing 9% over 2016. During the first quarter of 2018, 406 MW of new power capacity was installed. More than 54,000 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 89,379 MW now operate in the US.

The roster of US wind projects under construction and in advanced development as of the end of the first quarter of 2018 had reached 33,449 MW, a 40% increase year-over-year, according to AWEA’s US Wind Industry First Quarter 2018 Market Report.

According to AWEA, project developers signed 3,560 MW of power purchase agreements (PPAs) during the first quarter of 2018 — the strongest quarter since AWEA began tracking PPA activity in 2013 — with utilities accounting for 69% of that activity and corporate consumers accounting for 31%. These combined activities contributed to 10,220 MW in total announcements since early 2016.


In April 2018, Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP, Hartford, CT, US) received three offshore wind farm bids in response to a request for renewable energy proposals. The proposals came from Deepwater Wind (Providence, RI, US), Vineyard Wind (New Bedford, MA, US) and Bay State Wind, a joint venture of Eversource Energy (Boston, MA, US) and Orsted (Fredericia, Denmark). In July, the New York State Public Service Commission set a course for the state's first procurements of offshore wind to support New York's goal of 2,400 MW of new offshore wind generation by 2030. And then, in September 2018, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU, Trenton, NJ, US) approved an order opening an application window for 1.1 GW of offshore wind capacity, which is reportedly the US’s largest single-state solicitation of offshore wind to date. New Jersey has a stated goal of 3.5 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA, Eureka, CA, US) selected a consortium of companies to pursue development of a floating offshore wind farm 20 miles off the Northern California coast.


As for the rest of the world, at the end of June 2017, the European Union had a total of 159.5 GW of wind power capacity installed (48% in Germany). In all, the wind energy industry added 52.6 GW of new installed generating capacity in 2017, bringing the world's installed wind energy total to 539.581 GW, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (Brussels, Belgium).

The size of wind turbines continues to increase as well. Today, offshore, 6-9-MW turbines with blades 65-80m long are the norm. In September 2018, MHI Vestas announced that its V164 turbine platform has now achieved a power rating of 10 MW, making it the first commercially available double-digit wind turbine. While 10-MW turbines won’t be installed until 2021, an 8.8-MW version of the V164 was deployed in Vattenfall’s (London, UK) European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Scotland’s Aberdeen Bay in April 2018. The turbine has a tip height of 191m and each blade is 80m long.

As wind turbines get larger and blade lengths increase, carbon fiber reinforcement in spar caps — incorporated as the reinforcing member of wind turbine rotor blades — has become an efficient way to reduce overall weight and increase blade stiffness to prevent tower strikes in the event of sudden wind gusts. According to Philip Schell, executive VP, carbon fiber, Zoltek Corp. (St. Louis, MO, US), roughly 25% of wind turbines are now manufactured with carbon fiber spar caps. Although that figure is trending upward, it also underscores that most turbines are still built entirely from glass fiber composites. He adds that when all cost/performance trade-offs are considered, a solid case can be made for substituting carbon fiber for glass fiber in the manufacture of spar caps for turbine blades 55m in length and longer.

Although wind energy still captures the spotlight, and rightly so, the means to convert the power of incoming/outgoing tides and ocean currents are also attaining commercial status. One example, in 2017, was Portland, ME, US-based Ocean Renewable Power Co.’s deployment of its commercial-scale TidGen ocean tidal energy power system in Western Passage, at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, one of the world’s most powerful tidal flows, on the border between eastern Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. ORPC’s 5-MW, 15-device, all-composite tidal turbine system should have the capability to generate low-cost electric power for all of Downeast Maine. Within eight to 10 years, ORPC expects to have 100-120 MW of similar systems in place not only off the coast of Maine, but also off the coast of Alaska as well.

Sports & recreation

The sporting goods market was a boon to the advanced composites market in the final decade of the 20th century. Carbon fiber fishing rods were introduced to great fanfare — and sales. Golf shafts and tennis rackets weren’t to be left out, and driven by the growing popularity of cycling races like the Tour de France, carbon fiber bicycles went from pro racing to bike trail and street and saw numerous innovations in the 1990s and 2000s, in materials and fabrication methods.

Today, composites are found in products used in seven of the 10 most popular outdoor sports and recreational activities. Glass- and carbon-reinforced composites (alone or in hybrids with other fibers) continue to replace wood and metal in skis, fishing rods, bowling balls, tennis rackets, spars/shafts for kayak paddles, windsurfing masts and boards, hockey sticks, kites and bicycle handlebars, as well as in niche applications, such as fairings for recumbent bikes.

Market Research firm Lucintel (Irving, TX, US) estimates that the global sporting goods industry, at retail, is worth US$5 trillion and brings in US$110 billion/yr in the US alone. Although carbon fiber has a strong position in this segment, Lucintel maintains that use of carbon fiber in the worldwide sporting goods market could see its lowest growth rate in the near term, but is still expected to reach US$3 billion in 2018, up from US$1.8 billion in 2013. Notably, the sporting goods segment in China, which is projected by Lucintel to reach US$408 million by 2018, will consume more carbon fiber (51% of the total) than China’s aerospace and industrial segments combined. 

Bicycles continue to be the highest-profile market for composites use — or lack of composites use. That is, composites use in bikes is valuable in that it enables significant weight savings, so the less material used, the better. The challenge the bicycle manufacturing industry faces, as reported in CW in the story on bicycle design and manufacturing integrity, is the lack of strictly enforced standards for the design and fabrication of carbon fiber composite bike frames. The lack of standards and oversight can and has led to substandard product quality, resulting in injury or death due to failure of composite structures. No legally binding structural safety standards yet exist that address common rider load and environmental conditions (braking, impact loads, fatigue, vibration, material aging or degradation, material abrasion and wear) for high-performance composite bikes. Further, the existing ASTM D-30 test methods are not yet recognized by ASTM’s F-08 Bicycle Committee. That said, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO, Zurich, Switzerland) published its ISO 4210 standard for bicycles in 2014 and 2015 in nine sections. ISO 4210 was “developed in response to demand throughout the world, and the aim has been to ensure that bicycles manufactured in compliance with this International Standard will be as safe as is practically possible [editor’s italics]. The scope has been limited to safety considerations and has specifically avoided standardization of components,” according to ISO.

Recently, there has been significant activity in the watersports market, particularly in the area of stand-up paddleboard fins. CW covered several applications where concern for customer-specific performance demands and growing watersports participants’ respect for the health of their environment have come together in inventive composite designs. A standout was surfing equipment manufacturer Future Fins (Huntington Beach, CA, US) ownership team, which felt such a responsibility to protect the environment that they took aim at a new fin product that would reduce landfill waste and be as Earth-friendly as possible.

Toward that end, they collaborated with Green Dot Bioplastics (Cottonwood Falls, KS, US) to introduce a fin formed from bio-composites and bio-plastics but with adequate stiffness for a fin designed for stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). F One of Green Dot’s trademarked Terratek wood-plastic composites, a blend of reclaimed wood fibers with recycled polypropylene (PP) plastic, was the right solution. Terratek WC100300, which blends pine wood fiber and PP at 30% wood fiber by weight (although loading can be as high as 60%, depending on customer specs), fit the bill. With a density of 1.02 g/cm3, it delivers a tensile modulus of 399,000 psi, yet has the look and feel of wood. The point? Manufacturers are discovering that sustainable materials and extreme high-performance are not incompatible goals.

A growing trend toward customization, and high-end manufacturers’ desires to cater to the unique needs and desires of individual athletes, has opened the door to 3D printing. Krone Ltd. (Dallas, TX, US), for example, is employing the process in the manufacture of its top-end golf clubs. Faced with exacting limits of club size and weight, and increasing individual expectations on the part of golfers not only in terms of driver performance (ball distance, loft, speed and spin) but also nuances such as “feel” and balance, company founder Mark Kronenberg approached for guidance the CRP Group (Modena, Italy), which had long experience with 3D printing in Formula 1 racing. CRP Group companies include CRP Technology, which produces additive manufacturing materials and technology, and CRP Meccanica, with high-precision CNC machining experience. 

The three companies worked together to develop the KD-1, a composite driver club head consisting of an additively manufactured body, using selective laser sintering (SLS) and employing Windform SP, a sinterable carbon fiber/polyamide powder; a Ti6A14V titanium strike face, CNC-machined from billet material, followed by sandblasting and cleaning; and a brass weight, also CNC-machined and sandblasted.

Utility infrastructure

As noted in the introduction, the repair and replacement of corroded metal infrastructure is a pressing need. Corrosion is currently the major cost driver in the maintenance of communication towers throughout the US Air Force inventory, for example. The Air Force’s desire to address corrosion led to an innovative composite solution. The result was a 118-ft communications tower completely constructed from pultruded composites and installed by the Air Force at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts.

Another pressing need is underground pipe. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA, Washington, DC, US) report, titled State of Technology for Rehabilitation of Water Distribution Systems, says, “The impact that the lack of investment in potable water infrastructure will have on the performance of aging underground infrastructure over time is well documented, and the needed funding estimates range as high as US$325 billion in the coming 20 years.” Composites can play an important role by providing corrosion-resistant, durable and long-lasting solutions. One recent example of composites put to use for piping was a water project in the Middle East. The selected pipe for the project was Amiantit Europe’s (Mochau, Germany) pipe product, Flowtite Grey, which was intended for water, sewage, waste and raw material management. Flowtite Grey is more resistant to rough installation and transport practices than previous generations of composite pipe, but it comes at a comparable or lower price point than traditional (metal or concrete) materials. The large-diameter pipe was produced on Flowtite’s continuous filament winding machinery, a technology developed for cost-effective pipe production. 




Filament wound fiberglass/polyester composites have recently found broad application in several stages of seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination. SWRO plants around the world use many miles of corrosion-resistant fiberglass-reinforced polymer (FRP) low-pressure piping as a distribution network, primarily over land, to carry seawater to the plant, to distribute the potable water that is produced, to carry the brine (salt and impurities) back to the ocean, and for internal plant treatment piping and energy-recovery devices. Fiber-reinforced plastic also forms storage tanks and piping used in desalination plants to contain sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) used in chlorination of desalination process water, and for sulfuric acid — very difficult to store in metal but readily handled in fiberglass/epoxy vinyl ester tanks and piping at ambient temperatures and concentrations below 50%, according to corrosion industry resin producer Ashland

Improvements to composite materials are benefiting those fighting corrosion. One case in point is the use of nanocomposites to combat a hazardous situation involving fiberglass tanks. An electrostatic charge can be generated when filling or emptying tanks, particularly those containing petroleum-based liquids, because the product movement can create a static charge between the liquid and the tank wall. Because fiberglass acts as an insulator, static charges tend to accumulate in the liquid, and a stray spark can lead to an explosion. To address this risk, fiberglass tank manufacturers have historically used anti-static fillers in the resin, typically carbon black or conductive mica, to dissipate any static charge. But, filler ratios up to 30% are often necessary, which makes wetout of the fiberglass more difficult and slows the resin cure rate. Use of TUBALL graphene single-wall carbon nanotubes supplied by OCSiAl (Leudelange, Luxembourg and Columbus, OH, US) can provide electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection by dissipating electrostatic charge inside and outside a storage tank. One OCSiAl partner customer previously used conductive carbon black at a loading of 15%, but has replaced it with just 0.5% of TUBALL MATRIX 204, a pre-dispersed graphene nanotube concentrate. 


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