Basalt fiber for rebar is slightly more expensive than glass fiber but significantly cheaper than carbon fiber. With the price of glass going up, however, basalt is becoming more competitive. Emparanza says that the basalt industry doesn’t want to compete against glass and carbon fiber but wants to be part of the total solution that the composites industry can offer.

From Poles to Platforms

Some composites manufacturers are pursuing opportunities in other types of infrastructure where resiliency is of primary concern. “The composites industry is well positioned in terms of structures that can withstand the wind, rain and weather,” says Scott Reeve, president of Creative Composites Group’s, Composite Advantage Division. (Reeve also chairs ACMA’s Transportation Structure Committee.)

In Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Florida, utility companies have been installing GFRP telephone poles, which remain standing in the hurricane winds that bring down wooden poles. West Coast utilities companies have expressed interest in fiberglass-reinforced poles designed to withstand wildfires.

Many utilities are now replacing wooden cross arms on utility poles with composite cross arms. They like the light weight, resilience and non-conductive properties of the composite materials, and the fact that one FRP cross arm can replace two wooden ones.

“We’ve had several projects related to the critical infrastructure for our energy grid. Protective FRP-reinforced composite walls can help prevent transformer damage from high winds, fire, ballistic or blast threats, but are electrically inert so there’s no need to ground them,” says Ohnstad.

Composites are also proving useful in keeping U.S. waterways open and navigable. Reeve says that protective fences (fenders) made from composite materials installed in the water around structures like bridge piers can withstand damage from boats and barges. Because they are non-corrosive, composites are being used more frequently in seawalls as well.

“Another big area is the changeover of rail station platforms from concrete to fiberglass,” Reeve adds. At transit agency stations in the Northeast corridor, the chemicals used for de-icing the train platforms have quickly degraded the concrete. With GFRP platforms, the de-icing chemicals work effectively but cause no damage.

Construction speed is especially important for this application. The platforms are so light that Creative Composites Group can prefabricate large sections and install them at night when the trains aren’t running as frequently as during the daytime. This minimizes train delays and reduces inconvenience to rail passengers.

Some jurisdictions are using composite materials for pedestrian walkways on bridges. “Agencies are putting in bigger, lighter sidewalks on the sides of bridges. Instead of a little two-to-three-foot concrete curb, you may be adding 10-foot-wide sidewalks,” Reeve says.