Reinforced plastics, used as replacement of steel, aluminium and other metals-primarily because of their strength to weight ratio, are playing an important role in technical applications. Material substitution will remain the driving force behind advances in reinforced plastics. Higher performance requirements, combined with polymer type, reinforcement and processing improvements, will broaden applications and enhance competitiveness with steel and aluminium.
USA is expected to generate demand for reinforced plastics of almost 23 mln tons by 2011, as per a report by Freedonia. Reinforced plastics demand is projected to increase 2.8% pa from the present 1.7 mln tons and is projected to reach 1.9 mln tons in 2011. This will create a market for 1.3 mln tons of polymer and about 0.6 mln tons of reinforcements.
Thermoset resins will remain dominant, and thermoplastics will grow faster. Glass fibers due to their low cost and good performance, will stay the dominant reinforcement material while nano materials are expected to increase 9% pa to reach about 14500 MT and nano materials will emerge commercially with demand reaching almost 2500 MT. Thermoset resins, primarily unsaturated polyester, will continue to account for over 60% of all reinforced plastics in 2011. Demand for reinforced thermosets is projected to expand 2.7% pa to reach as level of 1.14 mln tons in 2011, driven by their low cost and performance attributes such as strength and corrosion resistance. Product innovations and improved sheet moulding compounds and environmentally friendly low-styrene-content formulations will also spur growth. Niche opportunities are expected in areas such as pedestrian and vehicular bridge decking and wind turbine blades. Unsaturated polyester will remain the leading resin, accounting for 91%of all thermosets in 2011. Opportunities for reinforced epoxy are anticipated in military and commercial aircraft and aerospace applications.
Faster growth, however, is anticipated for thermoplastics due to their better aesthetics and easier processing. Reinforced thermoplastics demand is forecast to grow 3% pa to 725,000 tons in 2011 due to their competitive cost, high performance capabilities, processing advantages and better design capabilities. PP will remain the leading thermoplastic and present above average growth based on its low cost, stiffness and dimensional stability, particularly in motor vehicle uses. Reinforced PC will expand at the fastest pace due to its dimensional stability, impact strength and other properties, making it particularly amenable to motor vehicle and producer durable equipment uses. Thermoplastic polyester and polyamide will also present good opportunities due to their high heat resistance, strength and durability.