Composites for the construction sector - established in GRP, with great growth potential in CFRP
Whether GRP or CFRP - the construction industry is one of the most important fields of application for composites. One reason for this is the variety of possible applications. Last year, 35 percent of the GRP produced in Europe was produced for the construction industry. The industry as a whole lost around 399,000 tonnes, more than in the previous year. This represents a further slight increase in market share and the second largest after transport. In the meantime, the construction and infrastructure sectors (in addition to the automotive and aviation sectors) are among the sectors from which the industry expects significant growth impulses for the manufacturers and processors of fibre-reinforced composites.
According to the "Composites Market Report 2018" of the trade association Composites Germany, the construction/infrastructure sector is an important future market, especially for continuous processes and especially for pultrusion. The volume of GRP components produced in this way increased by an above-average 3.4 percent in 2018. Thus, the positive development of the past years has continued. The total production volume now stands at 151,000 tonnes.
In addition to automotive applications, the profiles produced are mainly used for facades. The experts also mention bridge construction, window and stair/ladder profiles, but also reinforcement systems. In the construction/infrastructure sector in particular, in addition to lightweight construction, material properties such as corrosion resistance, freedom from maintenance to a large extent, the possibility of load-compliant construction and the non-conductivity of current and temperature play a central role.
According to the experts, however, there is still a lack of corresponding general approvals and standards at present. This lack of "safety" still leads to great reluctance on the part of many architects and material decision-makers. In addition, many decision-makers are still not sufficiently aware of the positive properties of GRP compared with other building materials.
CFRP still little established in the construction sector, but high mass throughput possible
In the CFRP sector, the construction/infrastructure sector plays a much smaller role. At 7,740 tonnes, the market share is only around five percent of a total of 154,700 tonnes. In terms of sales, the share is only two percent. Only USD 0.46 billion out of a total of USD 23.15 billion was accounted for by the application industry last year. "CC applications in the construction sector are currently still little established," the experts state in the market report. "At the same time, the applications that are being promised have a very high mass throughput. Even individual solutions would have a significant impact on the overall CC market," they forecast.
Fibre-reinforced inserts for concrete structures
According to the market report, current extensive research activities focus on fiber-reinforced inserts for concrete construction methods (e.g. rebars, structural mats / grids), for example for the substitution of steel reinforcements. At the same time, the corrosion resistance of CFRP composites could save large quantities of concrete, since the minimum wall thicknesses required to prevent moisture penetration can be significantly reduced. At the same time, this would have a considerable influence on CO2 emissions in the construction industry. "In addition, solutions in the area of certification (e.g. flame protection) are currently being discussed extensively. The results so far suggest that further far-reaching innovations in this segment can be expected, which could resolve the conservative assessment shown in the medium to long term," the experts are optimistic about the future.
At present, new applications for composites in the construction industry are failing due to the legal framework. In bridge construction, for example, depending on the country, different official approvals or lack of standardization prevent the "series use" of composite materials. Particularly in the USA, Japan, Switzerland and the Netherlands, intensive work is currently being done on the development of GRP bridges. While GRP bridges are now standard in the Netherlands, for example, they are still the exception in Germany.
Diversity of application possibilities in construction holds great opportunities for fibre-reinforced composites
According to experts, the use of GRP for bridges and roadways offers numerous advantages. The material is immune to both frost damage and de-icing salts. Another advantage is the significantly lower weight. According to Carbon Composites e.V., a plastic bridge weighs about 40 percent of a steel composite and less than 30 percent of a prestressed concrete bridge and can be prefabricated in significantly larger dimensions and lifted by crane. After all, the Hessian State Office for Roads and Transport began testing GRP in a pilot project in 2008. Near Friedberg, a 22-metre single-lane road bridge spans the B 455 federal highway.
Whether GRP or CFRP - the construction industry is one of the most important fields of application for composites. One reason for this is the variety of possible applications. Whether profiles and pipes, cable and light shafts as well as covers, formwork, bridge elements, railing and ladder systems, reinforcements or design elements for facades - the composite materials are used in numerous components. They also have high mechanical strength at low weight, are resistant to corrosion and fatigue, have low thermal conductivity and offer great design freedom. In addition, the amount of material required is almost always high, both because of the quantity and the size or volume of the components.
Experts predict increase in use of composite materials
The authors of the 2015 report "Inventory of Lightweight Construction in Germany" published by the VDI Centre for Resource Efficiency see good growth opportunities for the user industry. Accordingly, lightweight construction plays an important role in the construction industry. In the next few years, an increase in the use of corresponding materials can be expected. Lightweight construction principles are used in new designs, for example in façade constructions - manufactured using open processes.
In addition to these innovations, the increased use of GRP should also be mentioned, according to the experts. Bridges and facades are not the only exciting fields of application for GRP structures. The material is also used to manufacture light and cable shafts as well as manhole covers using press moulding (SMC) or injection moulding (BMC). GRP pipes and tanks produced by centrifugal or winding processes are also relevant for plant and pipeline construction as well as the oil/gas and chemical industries.
The construction industry also offers promising areas of application for CFRP. For example, CFRP lamellas are bonded to the surface of the concrete to reinforce buildings. According to Carbon Composites e.V., thousands of buildings worldwide have already been renovated or refurbished for new tasks with this corrosion-resistant reinforcement. This re-strengthening with CFRP lamellas therefore offers considerable advantages in terms of economy, processing and appearance. They increase the tensile, compressive and flexural strength of load-bearing components, with only insignificant changes being made to the design dimensions and weight. The process is now used not only for reinforced concrete but also for wood.
Construction sector in the focus of COMPOSITES EUROPE
COMPOSITES EUROPE will also be presenting the latest developments in the field of fibre-reinforced composites for the construction/infrastructure sector from 10 to 12 September 2019 in Stuttgart. It brings together the most important market participants, who will present their latest developments. One of them is Sika Deutschland GmbH. "We will present our competence in the field of composites resins. The Sika Advanced Resins division has a broad product portfolio in epoxy and polyurethane resins for composite lightweight applications," says Holger Giese, Head of Market Development Composites.
The expert sees fiber-reinforced composites as well suited for use in the construction sector. "The main areas of application are profiles for reinforcing buildings and components such as fiber-wound tubes for special architectural applications, such as exhibition halls," he explains. He still sees the industry on course for growth, even though the major lightweight construction trend in recent months has been somewhat declining. "With the possibilities to develop and produce resin systems according to the customer's requirements, we want to help them increase efficiency and save costs. We will be demonstrating this expertise at the trade fair," says Giese. COMPOSITES EUROPE, as one of the most important trade fairs for the fibre composite materials sector, is the ideal platform for this.