Advanced materials are making headway in the wind market. GE started using carbon fiber in its two wind turbine models, GE 1.6-100 and GE 4.1-113. Major Brazilian blade manufacturer, Tecsis, is manufacturing wind blades for GE energy using large tow carbon fiber prepreg supplied by Gurit.

Pipe and Tank

Oil and gas and chemical segments together accounted for more than 55 percent of the FRP pipe market in the United States, followed by retail fuel, marine/offshore, waste/wastewater, sewage, power and pulp/paper. In the last five years, the power segment grew at a faster rate with a major focus on large-diameter pipes. There also is a trend toward using large-diameter pipes in sewage applications. In 2013, FRP pipes in municipal water systems and pipe rehabilitation grew slightly.

In the last several years, major players established strategic alliances. The largest FRP manufacturer, NOV Fiberglass, acquired two major U.S. FRP pipe manufacturers – Ameron and Fiberspar. Future Pipe Industries acquired ITT Exelis. Ershigs established a joint venture with Hanwei Energy Service to establish Hanwei Ershigs. Last year, Ershigs acquired Fibra S.A.

FRP tanks had a mixed performance. Underground petroleum-based tanks grew at a faster pace among all segments due to increasing demand of FRP tanks from independent service stations, whereas underground water-based tanks grew marginally.

Other Markets

In the construction industry, composites demand registered 8.3 percent growth in 2013. Construction continues to be the second largest market (after transportation) for composite materials. The main drivers for composites usage are new housing and remodeling, both of which have grown significantly thanks to the economic recovery. The government also is allocating funds for the retrofitting of old infrastructures, especially bridges and roads, which further drives composites demand in the construction sector.

In the marine industry, composite materials grew 3.4 percent in 2013 due to the improving economy, increased consumer spending and the rise in employment rates. In the United States, boat production grew more than 5 percent. Such growth benefits the composites industry since approximately 70 percent of boats are made with composite materials.

The U.S. consumer goods market grew 3 percent in 2013. Composites are used in seven out of 10 products in the most popular outdoor sports and recreational activities. For example, carbon fiber is the predominant material in golf shafts, fishing rods and tennis rackets.
Innovation Potential in Composites

Innovation Potential in Composites

There will be significant innovations in the composites market in the next 50 years. In aerospace, automotive, construction, pipe and tank, consumer goods and other industries, composites are underrepresented. Some of the future innovation areas for composites are:

  • Lightweighting of automotive, aerospace and industrial parts
  • Cost reduction in various composite parts
  • Smart structures for quality control and damage monitoring
  • Reduction in number of part counts in many applications
  • Advanced composite parts for mass produced cars
  • Faster and predictable infusion
  • Reduction in the price of composite materials, including carbon, aramid and resins
  • Environmentally-friendly resin and fiber systems
  • Enhanced mechanical, chemical and conductive properties of fiber and resin systems

Lightweighting and cost reduction are two mega trends across industries. There’s been a shift to carbon fiber driven by its low density, high strength and stiffness compared to traditional materials. The key factor limiting the penetration of carbon fiber is its high cost, which will gradually decrease.