Markets seeking energy-saving solutions expect more from composite fibers than ever before.

One of the major problems facing the American economy is escalating energy prices. The composite manufacturing industry is positioned to provide solutions, offering energy-saving products for markets such as automotive, aerospace, wind energy and infrastructure. The growing demand for lightweight composite products is prompting suppliers to develop specialty fibers.

Specialty fibers are engineered to fit the particular needs of a given product. Some specialty fibers use non-standard materials, while others exhibit extreme or specifically tailored characteristics, such as the addition of boron to prevent corrosion. As opposed to general use fibers, these advanced fibers give composite products an advantage geared toward specific applications.

According to research conducted by Koncept Analytics in 2012, the global sale of glass fibers fell sharply in 2008. This was a direct result of lower demand for composite products during the economic depression. However, the marketplace saw an upswing in 2009 as more composite manufacturers began creating lightweight solutions – such as longer wind blades – for the energy market. It has continued an upward trend ever since. Koncept Analytics expects the composite fiberglass market will continue to grow at a rate of 4.7 percent through 2014.

The use of long fibers and other specialty fibers are more prevalent in the thermoplastic market. However, leaders in the composite fiberglass industry – such as Jushi USA, Owens Corning and PPG Industries – predict the industry may soon see a rise in specialty fibers for the thermoset market. Three trends in the composite fiberglass market include the use of long fibers, alkaline fibers and corrosion-resistant fibers.

Long Fibers, Light Weight

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard enacted in August 2012 sets strict federal fuel economy and carbon emissions standards for the U.S. transportation industry. To aid in finding a solution for lower fuel consumption, the U.S. composite market is building larger structural products to replace heavier metal parts. This leads to one of the biggest trends in the industry – the need for long fibers and preform materials to build large composite structural parts.

While long fibers are relatively new, they have attracted significant interest. According to market analyst Lucintel, long fibers have exhibited double-digit growth during the past few years and this trend is expected to continue. In the thermoplastic industry, long glass fiber rovings are injected with thermoplastic material, typically polypropylene, to create lightweight parts. The market for thermoset long fiber applications has not seen the same growth rate. However, manufacturers are using long glass fiber rovings to fill the gap between general fibers and prepregs.

Owens Corning, a leading provider of long fiber material based in Toledo, Ohio, views structural composites as a strategic opportunity for growth in the automotive industry. It is currently investing in global innovation opportunities, such as the creation of the China Composite Center, to encourage further thermoset research.