Composites front and center at second annual chemical processing symposium

As low natural gas prices accelerate chemical processing plant expansions in the U.S., composites stand to be a major player in this highly corrosive environment. ACMA's Chemical Processing Symposium aims to educate engineers about composites' potential.

There are few applications as well matched to composites’ strengths than chemical processing. Composites’ durability, strength and corrosion resistance make them an obvious choice in environments filled with hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, caustic soda and aqueous chlorine chemistry, to name a few.

Why, then, are composite materials like glass-reinforced epoxy vinyl ester not more widely used in the chemical processing industry? In this fast-growing market, metals and metallic alloys are still the material of choice in some applications that would benefit greatly by a switch to composites.

Thom Johnson, industry manager of corrosion-resistant resins at Ashland Performance Materials (Columbus, Ohio), says some chemical processes like chlor alkali that used to rely on metals and alloys are so corrosive that a “step-change solution” in materials was required and the switch to composites was made.

However, Johnson says, in other applications, like those employing aqueous chlorine chemistry, the incumbent (metallic) material’s corrosion resistance is adequate and thus not at a failure point that demands a material change. These applications, he notes, are an opportunity for the composites industry to prove the value proposition of fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP). “There’s a lot of missionary work to be done there,” Johnson contends.

Such missionary work begins with composites education, which Johnson notes is lacking. Chemical and mechanical engineers graduating college today are usually not educated about alternatives to metals, he says, and are unaware of the benefits conferred by composites in a chemical processing environment. On top of this, veteran engineers have grown accustomed to legacy materials (metals and alloys) and resist conversion to composites.

Designed to fill the education gap is the American Composites Manufacturing Association’s (ACMA, Arlington, Va.) Chemical Processing Symposium 2013, Nov. 6-7 in Galveston, Texas. First launched in 2012, the symposium is designed to help chemical processing engineers understand the benefits and application of composites in corrosive environments.

Topics at the symposium include chlor akali, chlorine dioxide, hydrochloric acid, bromine, sulfuric and phosphoric acids, dual laminates, fiber reinforcements, vessels tanks and pipes. The event also offers up to 12.25 professional development hours. Visit for more information about the symposium.