The markets: Construction (2018)

In the 21st Century, one of the more compelling human stories is the growing need for resources to house Earth’s expanding population, and the growing awareness that those resources are finite and, in many cases, increasingly scarce.

In the 21st Century, one of the more compelling human stories is the growing need for resources to house Earth’s expanding population, and the growing awareness that those resources are finite and, in many cases, increasingly scarce. One case in which that contrast is acute is residential housing. 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.

Continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite panels conceived seven years ago by Axia Materials Co. Ltd. (Hwaseong, South Korea) have already seen use in numerous projects. Among them are uses as diverse as US military barracks in Kuwait, vacation cabins in Europe, affordable homes in Asia, Africa and Central America, and bids for multi-family refugee and student housing in Scandinavia. Used together with an in-house developed, software-based PIxel Haus housing design system, Axia’s composite panel concept is, today, anticipating the future of residential homebuilding. In 2010, the company began prototyping its LiteTex continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic production line for thermoformable sheet. LiteTex can be made in a continuous process at speeds of 2-4 m/min, in production lines that do not use high-pressure and typically stay below 260°C. In 2014, Axia Materials added a LitePan laminated composite structural insulation panels (SIP) production line, where LiteTex skins are laminated onto both sides of a core material to form its  housing panel stock.

Axia Materials, however, recognized the need for a set of pre-engineered, standard designs, using panels pre-tested to meet industry building and fire regulations. Thus, the Pixel Haus system was developed for a variety of temporary, emergency and permanent accommodations tis panels. There are currently several Pixel Haus design categories, including standard dwellings, emergency shelters and designs that can be configured for offices, schools and hospitals.

Axia says the building sector contributes up to 30% of greenhouse gas and consumes 40% of energy worldwide, but claims its Pixel Haus building system requires only 15% of the energy vs. steel structures, yet is 4-10 times stronger and offers a longer lifecycle. Further,  all the materials used for Pixel Haus structures are recyclable.

And, where not long ago, it was difficult to get composites approved for use in commercial construction, 2017 saw some unusually creative and surprising applications that indicate that the materials have not only come to the attention of architects and builders, but also have stimulated their creativity and resourcefulness. A case in point? Apple, on Oct. 20, 2017, re-opened its flagship Apple Michigan Avenue store 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).

 

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