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Composites: A Versatile Material Making Modern World
In the past few years, composites have started getting worldwide traction against traditional materials such as aluminum, steel and wood. It is estimated that more than 17 million tons of composites were consumed in the year 2018. Composites are materials based upon unique combination of matrix and fibers that can be tailored to fit a diverse range of applications. The two key components within the composites are matrix and fiber. Glass, carbon, aramid, basalt and natural fibers are the most widely used fibers in the composites. Materials such as polyester, epoxy, polyurethane and vinyl ester are primarily used as the matrix. Thermoset resins are more often employed in composites as compared to thermoplastic resins as they are better suited for high-temperature range and offers high flexibility in design.
Composites are stronger, lighter, durable and versatile as compared to traditional materials. For instance, carbon fiber reinforced composite is expected to be 4-5 times stronger compared to 1020 steel grade and 1/5th the weight. Design freedom, functionality and weight reduction have been the key factors behind composites being the ideal choice in many applications, especially in transportation, construction and electrical and electronics.
Asia Pacific accounted for more than 40% of the total composites market in the year 2018. Acceleration of industrial growth in the region has been key driving force behind the rising demand for composites. Furthermore, China’s scientific and sustainable development strategy heralds a bright future for energy saving products in automotive, marine, and electrical & electronics. There has been a huge development in China’s wind energy market, creating ample growth opportunities in the composites consumption.
In Europe and North America, advancements in the field of lightweight materials have fueled the growth of composites. Demand for composites is on a rise especially from automotive and aerospace industry. Carbon fiber reinforced composites (CFRC) have exceptional properties that make them ideal materials for car manufacturers and modern aircrafts, focusing on weight reduction and enhanced fuel-efficiency. Government regulations such as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) and EU mandate on CO2 emissions will drive the development of composites over the coming years in the region.
Growing Efforts towards Light-weight and Durable Materials
Automotive OEM’s worldwide are upping their efforts for usage of multi-materials in weight reduction/light weighting to meet fuel efficiency goals. In the past few years, composite materials have become a vital part of automotive lightweight plan as they are widely deployed in under-the-hood, exterior and interior applications. Electric mobility is another factor driving the growth of composites in automotive. One of the most important aspects of EV is its range with weight playing major factor behind it. Composites can play a bigger role in achieving longer range by reducing the weight and dependency on heavier, denser metals.
World wind capacity installations have grown fourfold between 2010 and 2020 with 60.4 GW of capacity added in 2019. Wind energy is the perfect bet to deliver the goals set for renewable energy in Europe. Wind energy is clean, sustainable and cost effective option compared to fossil fuels. Manufacturers are focused on creating turbines with longer blades to capture more wind in return generating more power output. To keep up with growing demand for wind turbines, composites can play an important role in delivering light weighting and energy efficient blades.
High-cycle Time and Raw Material Costs a Question at Hand
Mass production and affordability of composite materials is a main challenge in the market. In automotive industry, high material cost and cycle time has significantly impacted the penetration of composites in high-volume cars. Supply of carbon fiber is also adding to the woes of automotive industry as most of the lot is consumed in high-value aerospace sector. Lack of automation, higher raw materials prices compared to traditional steel, wood, thermoplastics, etc. and high production costs are limiting the market growth of composites across various verticals. Composites industry also needs to tackle recycling issues. Recycling carbon fiber composites is expensive and challenging as it cannot melt down and reform as other materials.
Capacities Expansion and Synergies to Dictate Strategic Growth
Composite manufacturers are engaging in capacity expansions and business integration operations to strengthen their position in the market. In 2019, Solvay announced expansion of its thermoplastic composite facility in the U.S. in order to meet strong demand from aerospace industry. The expansion is expected to aid Solvay to meet the high quality standards and industrial reliability. Solvay also announced first horizontal strategic platform to fast-track development of advanced composites.
In 2019, Teijin announced acquisition of Renegade Materials Corporation, a U.S. based supplier heat resistant thermoset prepreg to aerospace industry. The acquisition helped Teijin to integrate its business operations and strengthen its foothold in aerospace industry. This will also help company to upgrade its existing production capacities with technological advancements.