A First Look at Composites in 2015
The first quarter of 2015 is virtually complete, so we thought we’d follow up on some of our predictions for the year in composites—and take a look at some new developments.
As anticipated, more companies are collaborating to make carbon fiber more accessible for mass production.
After introducing the new, carbon fiber-clad Ford GT supercar at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show in January, Ford announced a partnership with carbon supplier DowAksa to develop “low-cost, high-volume” carbon fiber for automobiles. The collaboration will be part of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation created by the U.S. Government (part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation under the U.S. Department of Energy).
“Our collaboration with DowAksa and participation in this organization significantly boosts what we are able to achieve,” said Ken Washington, Ford’s VP of Research and Advanced Engineering. “We have a true alliance of highly talented people working to take automotive materials to the next level.”
Carbon recycling becomes a greater priority.
The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that two million pounds of carbon fiber composite material are landfilled within their state annually. This may be due, in large part, to the fact that the state is home to aircraft leaders Boeing and Bombardier and yacht builder Westport—all companies who incorporate carbon composite technology into their product.
One group is collaborating to address the issue. The Port of Port Angeles in Washington has welcomed the Composites Recycling Technology Center, or CRTC, and recently allotted them some space to set up shop, along with research partner, Peninsula College. The group plans to focus initial efforts on recycling carbon fiber prepregs and move on to recycling other composite materials.
“We see this as a great opportunity to add to our base mix of forest products and marine trades,” said Ken O’Halloren, the Port’s Executive Director. “And to support Washington State’s growth in aerospace and composites-based industries.”
According to original reporting, the CRTC will start out as a non-profit entity and subsequently spin off one or more for-profit manufacturing companies.
Composites make a more significant impact in architecture.
According to Composite Manufacturing Magazine, the non-residential segment for architectural composites grew almost six percent in 2014, with $7.2 trillion spent on projects. Experts are anticipating another eight percent growth this year.
“There are a lot of opportunities here,” said Jefferson Ellinger, an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and founding partner of E/Ye Design, an architecture firm based in Wyoming. “Right now, the composites industry makes up a very tiny part. But there’s a huge market in architecture right around the corner.”
Check out CompositeBuild.com from Ashland Performance Materials, one of the more companies providing a strong push behind composites technology for use in architecture.
Wind energy stays in the top tier of composite applications—and goes very high-profile.
Two new wind turbines were recently installed along the Eiffel Tower’s lower deck. Perched 400 feet above the ground atop a second-level restaurant, the composite turbines from Urban Green Energy (UGE) are part of a broader effort to make Paris’ most iconic monument more eco-friendly. The 17-foot VisionAIR5 turbines provide enough electricity to power the tower’s first-floor commercial areas—about 10,000 kWh per year.
Jan Gromadzki, an engineer who oversaw the project for UGE, says that’s enough to power an average American family’s home for one year. But “it’s just a small drop in the ocean” for the Eiffel Tower, which consumes an estimated 6.7 GWh a year.
“This installation is definitely more symbolic,” Gromadzki says. “But it is still significant because the merchant spaces on the first floor do consume energy, and being able to offset that consumption is something people can really assimilate and understand.”
Composites continue to be cool.
Audi is testing the Chairless Chair in one of its assembly plants. Employees strap the carbon fiber exoskeleton strapped to the back of the legs at the hips, knees, and ankles. The chair hydraulically adjusts to the wearer’s body size and desired sitting position. Body weight is transferred to the floor and employees sit in an ergonomically favorable position rather than standing all day. The “Chair” weighs in at just over five pounds.
Impossible Technology delivered up the 11-pound, 17-inch folding electric bicycle, made of carbon fiber. It’s capable of traveling up to 12.4 mph for 45 minutes. When folded, it fits into a standard backpack. Stay tuned to see if it takes off.
Check out this carbon fiber piano constructed with teamwork from pianist Gergely Boganyi and a group of Hungarian engineers. Boganyi was looking for the instrument to be more “human” than conventional Steinways and less susceptible to fluctuating humidity and temperatures. The soundboard, made from over 20 carbon composite layers, is projected to deliver greater resonance, vibrations, and sustaining power than conventional models, as well.
Music fans have dubbed it the “BatPiano.”
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