What solutions do composites offer to chemical processing applications?

The biggest advantages of composites are durability, longevity and cost relative to corrosion resistant alternatives. It’s not that composites are a panacea; they don’t fit into every application. There are some corrosive environments that are overly aggressive or too hot. For example, if the liquid temperature is above 200F or gaseous temperature is above 400F then it’s probably too hot for even high temperature FRP composites. Similarly, for more demanding corrosion applications, a dual laminate made with a chemically resistant thermoplastic inner liner and an FRP structural backing are often employed.

How do chemical companies learn about composites?

The most common way they find out is from symposiums and educational programs. Design engineers do get some training on composites in engineering schools but not really that much. They tend to learn from educational programs and societies like NACE and the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA).

What more would you like to see from composites?

I think composites have a good story to tell, but we need to see greater awareness and education of design engineers within the industry. Composites are one of the best kept secrets within chemical processing. There are a number of chemical companies that use them well and widely and others that have no idea about their properties or benefits.

Where do you see the most potential for composite growth?

The greatest room for growth for composites in chemical processing is within those aggressive environments where stainless steel is seriously challenged and FRP is a great fit, for example chlorine chemistry. Currently, fabricators and suppliers like Ashland will go out and do lunch-and-learn seminars with chemical producers to portray where FRP is a good fit. They’ll show case histories and consult with material specifiers and engineers within each chemical company to determine how best to solve corrosion problems in their facilities. We ask, “Where are your corrosion problems and how can we help you?”

What are the key issues keeping the industry from growing?

Corrosion companies largely deal with the engineering community. They are a conservative bunch; but hey, they’re paid to be that way. There is a lot of resistance to change. When they lack awareness on superior materials solutions, they cling to what they know best. The reluctance to change is probably the biggest challenge. That’s where we come in as an organization to educate these engineers and help them find better solutions. In essence, show them that they’re not blazing the trail on their own—but that composites have already been put into service in many of these applications and they’re working.