At CAMX, Antonio Nanni, professor and chair of the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Miami, discussed critical issues related to the advancement of composites in infrastructure markets, including testing, material standardization and additional infrastructure needs for market expansion.

The construction industry is driven by sustainability but regulated by building codes, said Nanni. It’s served by a delivery process that excludes sole sourcing, favors low bidding and separates design from construction. On the one hand, it offers opportunity for young talent with creativity and out-of-the box thinking – characteristics that are the foundation of composites’ success. On the other hand, Nanni sees a market impeded by the inertia of the system and its reliance on building codes and specifications.

If composites manufacturing professionals want to be successful in this market, they need to understand that progress can be made if all stakeholders – owners, engineers, architects and contractors – are motivated to accept the deployment of innovation. At that point, the opportunities are countless.

Nanni’s presentation addressed the development of composites-related building codes, the collection of mandatory provisions that specify minimum acceptable levels of service and safety. Nanni believes that the composites industry has not always fully understood its protocols, for example, the difference between codes (which include mandatory language and establish required practice) and guidelines (which include non-mandatory language and establish recommended practice). “It’s about prescriptive versus performance standards,” said Nanni.

Updated published standards are slowly becoming available for implementation of FRP infrastructure projects through organizations such as the International Code Council, International Existing Building Code and the American Concrete Institute. But since many codes and standards addressing externally bonded FRP construction are outstanding, the alternative approach to FRP infrastructure projects – obtaining “special permission” – is often the only option.

One of the challenges the FRP infrastructure design community must address is the need to champion sustainability through life cycle assessment in all projects, whether new construction or repair, and the development of recycling and reuse options. With a high growth rate, the combined end-of-life and scrap of GFRP in Europe is expected to reach 608 million pounds by 2015. In the U.S., this scrap almost exclusively ends up in landfills. Down-cycling FRP for filler and aggregate materials for civil project construction could be a solution for the overall composites industry.