by NICOLA CATENARO
On the future of composites we interviewed Elmar Witten, Managing Director of AVK, one of the largest associations in the field of composites in Europe.
In your latest report on the fiber reinforced plastics market, there is not very encouraging data. If the pandemic and the war will continue, what are the prospectives?
"In addition to the assessment of the current and future business situation by the companies, the production volumes must also be considered. Last year 2021 saw an 18.3% growth after the over 15% decline in composites manufacturing volume in 2018-2020. At the end of 2021, the pre-corona crisis level was almost reached again. Despite all the difficulties, there were very positive developments in the key application segments. These continue and the markets are in some cases developing much better than estimated some time ago - see, for example, the development of air traffic. But of course the ongoing war in Ukraine with its effects on the raw materials and energy markets also poses considerable challenges for the composites industry. However, since the composites industry is extremely heterogeneous, the consequences differ depending on the country in Europe considered, depending on the application industry and depending on the material used (GRP/CRP, thermosets/thermoplastics ...)".
Bio or recycled composites? Which is the most important choice? An how important will these markets be in the coming years?
"The markets for bio-composites and recycled materials will grow. The demands of end customers and industrial customers for "sustainable" solutions are increasing noticeably. The composites industry is facing up to this trend and is working on solutions: recycling is a major priority in the European composites associations. At the European level, the EuCIA's LCA tool provides a way of assessing the ecological impact of manufacturing composite components. In Germany, we are currently working on a "Composites Recycling Study" at the AVK, which will present the status quo on the subject in autumn of this year. We are working on a sustainability strategy with the other European Composites countries".
What are the promising sectors that composite component companies should consider more? Wind energy? Sport? Industry? Construction?
"After the transport sector was the largest area of application for GRP in Europe until a few years ago, this is now the area of construction and infrastructure. With almost a third of the GRP production volume and over 50% of the total composites volume (including all thermoplastic materials), the transport sector with all its facets remains important for the use of composites: cars, rail vehicles, airplanes, boats. In particular, the booming electromobility market also offers potential for composite components. The wind energy sector is a driver for market growth and further demand can be expected in some countries in view of the political decisions on the energy transition. In the sports sector there are always exciting innovations, also made of composite materials, but overall the total production volume is significantly smaller than in the construction, transport or electrical/electronics sectors".
Are there any raw material supply risks for the composites market in the coming months?
"The risks of unavailable and/or very expensive raw materials are of course very high for the mostly medium-sized composites companies. As a result, products cannot be manufactured or can be manufactured late, despite high demand from industrial customers. Raw material prices often cannot be passed on to customers, which puts companies under pressure. The shortage of energy - in Germany, for example, especially gas - will lead to considerable difficulties for the industry - including the composites industry - by the end of this year at the latest. Political solutions are required here that lead to planning security for companies".
According to your market analysis, what will the future of composites be?
"As already described, the composites industry is extremely heterogeneous. In addition to the challenges and current difficulties, there are many opportunities to use these materials, which are still new for many applications, in new areas. As the composites industry has always shown itself to be extremely innovative, I am sure that the development path will continue to be positive".
28 July 2022