Do you foresee hybrid composite beams as less expensive alternatives?
Our goal, and we are getting close to achieving it, is to be cost competitive with traditional materials on an installed cost basis and consider the longer life span to be a secondary benefit. If you include lifecycle, carbon footprint and maintenance costs into the equation today, I suspect we are already far cheaper. Unfortunately, not everyone thinks this way and changing people’s idea of how to evaluate value is a challenge which requires a great deal of patience. Gaining acceptance to highway construction as an approved alternative to concrete and steel can be a challenge, but, again, cost will certainly help us in that effort as well. Public opinion is becoming more accepting of new products and people are gradually starting to consider the bigger picture, which now includes carbon footprint and life cycle costs as factors in how to build smart in the future.
How do you put your product in front of the infrastructure decision-making bodies?
Typically we put together a proposal for construction firms to go to bid with, just like traditional materials would. We like to establish relationships with engineering and construction firms so they think of us and our beam’s advantages when designing projects. Our earliest projects were DOT highway bridge projects, which were considered demonstration projects and the decision making process was a bit different for those. Highway bridges have much stricter regulations (AASHTO) for use of new materials than say a private pier would, so the decision making process can be very different depending on the project. In most cases though, price is a major factor. You have to be in the right ballpark pricewise for any decision maker to consider you and hopefully there are enough benefits in reduced installation cost and life cycle costs to get the decision makers attention.
Do you see composites being used more in future marine applications?
Absolutely. Even in my short time doing this, the attitude toward use of composites in infrastructure, particularly marine infrastructure, has improved considerably. I suspect the next decade will be exponentially more.
Where do you see more use for it?
Composites are already widely used in other high performance products, such as race cars, skis, bikes, jets, boats etc., all of which at one point were predominantly made of metal, wood or other traditional building materials. Any other products still made of those materials today has to be a target in the future. Infrastructure is certainly one of the major markets that is still largely dominated by traditional materials and ripe for composite use. Transportation, such as trains, planes, ferries etc is also a ripe market as is energy, where composites are seeing more and more use, for example in wind blades and solar panels.