The U.S. glass fiber industry benefitted considerably from growth in the wind energy industry in 2021 due to a rush to get construction started in time to qualify for the production tax credit (PTC) before its expiration at the end of the year. As part of the COVID relief packages, the U.S. government extended the PTC to 60% of the full credit amount for wind projects that began construction by Dec. 31, 2021. Lucintel estimated 8% growth in the U.S. wind energy market in 2021 after double digit growth in 2020.
The marine market also grew during the pandemic as consumers sought safe, socially distanced leisure activities in the outdoors. The U.S. glass fiber market for marine was estimated to grow by 18% in 2021.
In terms of supply and demand dynamics in the glass fiber industry, the utilization rate increased to 91% in 2021 from 85% in 2020 due to growth in consumption of glass fiber in all end use industries. The global glass fiber capacity was 12.9 billion pounds in 2021. Lucintel predicts that the fiberglass plant capacity utilization rate in 2022 will reach 95%.
In the next 15 to 20 years, there will be substantial innovation in the glass fiber industry, particularly in the development of high-strength and high-modulus glass fiber, which competes with other high-performance fibers like carbon fiber. Two mega trends across market segments that will lead to further innovations are light-weighting and carbon dioxide reduction.
For example, light weight solutions are increasingly important in the wind energy market thanks to the rising number of offshore wind turbines, repowering of old turbines and growing installations with high turbine capacity in locations that receive high-speed wind. Throughout the market, the average size of wind turbines continues to grow, which results in a need for larger and stronger blades. This, in turn, creates demand for lighter, stronger material. Several companies, including Owens Corning and Jushi, have developed high-modulus glass fiber to meet market demand.
While GFRP composites are a staple in the marine industry, new technologies are changing the face of this market. Moi Composites, which developed an advanced 3D technology, has produced the MAMBO (Motor Additive Manufacturing Boat). The 3D-printed 6.5-meter power boat, made from continuous glass fiber-reinforced thermoset composites, has no hull-deck division and employs concave and convex shapes not possible with traditional composite fabrication. The marine industry has also taken steps toward greater sustainability. RS Electric Boats developed the first all-electric rigid inflatable boat (RIB) incorporating fiberglass and recycled carbon fiber in major structural components.