Automobile manufacturers have invested significant time and money into researching and developing hybrid and electric vehicles that emit fewer pollutants into the environment. In 2013, BMW will introduce the Megacity Vehicle (MCV), its volume-produced electric car with a passenger cell made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The new vehicle architecture enables new production processes that are simpler, more flexible and use less energy.
CFRP is roughly 50 percent lighter than steel and approximately 30 percent lighter than aluminum. The material’s light weight contributes to the MCV’s fuel efficiency. The car will be 750 pounds lighter than electric vehicles of comparable size, so it will achieve better mileage per kilowatt hour of stored battery power. There is also growing interest in the use of bioresins and natural fibers in the automotive industry to address sustainability issues.
Construction: Recovering with Growing Housing Market
Applications for composites in the construction market consist of bathtubs, shower trays, shower stalls, hot tubs, swimming pools, residential doors, garage door skins, window frames and flat, corrugated and architectural grade panels. In 2012, the construction industry consumed an estimated 30 percent of all composites with an 11.7 percent increase over 2011 shipments. The construction industry continues to be the second-largest market after transportation for composite materials. The main driver for composites usage in construction is new housing starts and remodeling expenditures, which were extremely weak during 2008-2009.
The U.S. housing market is growing moderately and recent data brings encouraging news. Housing starts and permits data indicate meaningful improvement. The same applies to existing home sales (which are trending upward) and home prices (which are increasing, albeit slowly). Home purchase loans, the leading indicator of housing sales, are similarly increasing. These developments should enable the composite materials market to resume healthy growth for residential construction applications such as doors, bathtubs and window frames.
The U.S. market for infrastructure construction, and its associated use of composites, also continued to grow in 2012. The U.S. federal government is increasing investment in infrastructure projects, mainly for repair of bridges and roads. The average age of bridges in the U.S. is 42 years, and almost half of all bridges will require major structural investments within the next 15 years.
Pipe and Tank: Increase in Oil Exploration
Pipe and tank is one of the major industries for composites in the U.S. Lucintel estimated a composites pipe and tank market growth of 4.8 percent in 2012. The pipe and tank industry (also known as the corrosion industry) comprises FRP pipe and tanks that are used in harsh environments for storing or transporting corrosive materials.