There is a high chance that the wind energy market will suffer in 2013 due to the PTC expiring at the end of 2012, which could lead to a possible loss of 37,000 jobs in 2013 and beyond. Ditlev Engel, CEO of Vestas Wind Systems A/S, stated that the wind energy market will drop by a massive 80 percent in 2013 if the PTC vanishes. The CEO further stated that PTC offers 2.2 cent per kilowatt hour benefit for the first 10 years of a renewable energy facility’s operation.

Automotive: Driven by Green Policies and Fuel Efficiency

U.S. auto sales grew to 12.7 million vehicles in 2011, rising from 11.6 million in 2010 and 10.4 million in 2009. Automotive demand growth was driven by low interest rates, increasing consumer confidence and the need to replace older cars. The U.S. lightweight vehicle market was estimated to continue its growth in 2012, driving composite consumption with a similar growth pattern. Demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles in the U.S. market is expected to continue to grow beyond 2018, which will drive demand for composite materials in the automotive industry.

Composite materials are used in interior headliners, underbody systems, bumper beams and instrumental panels. The demand for composites in the U.S. automotive market was estimated to grow by 11.8 percent in 2012. Increase in the use of composite materials in racing and high-performance vehicle components such as chassis, hoods and roofs is one of the driving factors for the increase in composites penetration in automotive, not only in this segment of the industry but as a proving ground for composites use in a wider variety of components.

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Figure 4: Annual Growth of U.S. Composites Consumption in Wind Energy with U.S. New MW Installations 2007-2012. (Source: Lucintel)

Specific to composites, the Obama Administration set new standards requiring light vehicles to achieve a Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standard of 36.6 mpg by 2017 and 54.5 mpg by 2025. The federal proposal to improve CAFE standards serves as a major stimulus to incorporate lightweight materials such as composites. These standards bring additional pressure on automakers to increase mileage by developing lightweight body structures using more aerodynamic designs and decreasing engine size without sacrificing power.

The high demand for composites is due to accelerated industry recovery and the introduction of an increasingly wide range of fuel-efficient small cars. Volatility in the price of gasoline and the concern over future increases in fuel prices can be taken as an opportunity for design engineers and composites fabricators to collaborate using new resins, glass carbon, innovative reinforcements and fabrication processes to meet this issue.