A Growing Field
Although composite manufacturers and their resin suppliers have made inroads into the corrosive industrial chemicals market, there is still plenty of room for growth. “We have to keep in mind that we are typically competing with metals or metal alloys, concrete and other building materials,” Johnson says. “Just because we have a chemistry that works well doesn’t mean that it will be commercially viable. If you look at corrosion-resistant structures, better than 90 percent of tanks, piping, scrubbers and ducting are built from metal. We are a single digit market provider in that particular industry.”
No matter how well composite materials perform in harsh conditions, it can be tough for them to gain market share since design engineers prefer to use materials with proven performance instead of taking risks with leading-edge materials. “It’s been known for years that composites are far better for the design and erection of bridges than concrete and steel, but you don’t see many composite bridges out there,” Johnson says.
“When we’re developing chemistries for the corrosion environment in particular, we are not only balancing cost and performance; we have to develop supporting laboratory data to establish the fit and then, more importantly, build case histories in the field to demonstrate that the composite will perform as designed,” he adds. “Once you establish those case histories it gets a lot easier to influence these design engineers to take a chance.”
Ashland collaborates not only with fabricator customers but also with asset owners and design engineers to bring them the most durable, cost-effective solutions. “But it’s not an overnight success,” admits Johnson.
Composite fabricators depend on large raw material suppliers, including resin producers, to help them develop new markets. “We need to enable them, with support on the R&D side and with some creative selling, to influence the end users to take another look at look at composite science for these applications,” says Johnson. Suppliers’ increased activity in organizations like ACMA and the National Association of Corrosion Engineers should also help bring composites to the forefront.
Johnson believes that over time the benefits of composites and their hardworking resins in demanding environments will become clear. “They are starting to take hold with the design community,” he says. “I think it’s a really bright future.”