ACMA member Lucintel and others predict that a growing trend to use thermoplastic composites will have a large impact in emerging economies such as China, Russia, Brazil, and India.

The use of thermoplastic polymers – the more easily moldable and resettable composite material relative to thermoset polymers – is a growing material trend in the fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) industry. According to American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) member Lucintel, the thermoplastic industry is expected to grow 4.9 percent over the next five years and reach an estimated $8.2 billion by 2017 – with even larger opportunities in emerging economies.

Thermoplastic polymers offer an easy solution to recycling composite components, a concern when it comes to adopting composite materials. The Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council published an article called “Thermoplastic Composites – A New Business Avenue” in early 2000s expressing the thermoplastic composite market as having “evolved from structural polymer composites” because traditional thermosets “suffered from chemical instability, i.e., the impregnated intermediate or prepreg has a limited shelf life.”

Thermoplastic composites can repeat the heating and cooling cycle many times, thus giving the product an almost indefinite shelf life and adding more value for industries concerned with composite recyclability. This is especially the case for the growth of natural fiber thermoplastics in the U.S. and Western Europe. For example, wood-plastic composites, used for decking material and other wood substitutions, have grown by 35-40 percent in the past five years.

According to Lucintel, countries in Asia and Eastern Europe will lead the growth for thermoplastic adoption because automotive production and thermoplastic automotive component production is quickly growing in those regions. However, the automotive sectors in the U.S. and Western Europe may not experience the same high rate of growth but are expected to develop steadily in next five years, mainly due to the acceptance of new composite application.

Lucintel also predicts that due to the rising number of consumer goods, such computer components and sports equipment, produced in the area will be a strong impetus for composite growth in Asia through 2017. The study indicates that although gains will be limited by rising energy costs and competition from lower cost materials, there is significant opportunity in emerging economies such as China, Russia, Brazil, and India.

For more information about the growth of the thermoplastic industry, read “Opportunities in Global Thermoplastic Composites: 2012-17 Trends and Forecast Analysis.”