Mapping The Future Of Composites

How can a highly fragmented industry like the composites industry come together to create a common vision of the future? The breadth of interests related to composite materials is both an advantage and a challenge when developing a shared vision. Inspired by this opportunity, ACMA hosted a roadmapping workshop in January, convening a diverse group of leadership across the field, including senior executives and thought leaders from industry, government and academia. The goal? To identify themes and address challenges common to multiple market segments. All composites industry markets were represented at the event, including transportation, wind, construction, marine and aerospace.

The two-day roadmapping workshop was jointly sponsored by ACMA, the Consortium for Accelerated Innovation and Insertion of Advanced Composites (CAIIAC) roadmapping team from Georgia Tech, and the Facilitating Industry By Engineering, Roadmapping and Science (FIBERS) Consortium from The University of Massachusetts Lowell. Participants heard from the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Department of Defense Office of Naval Research and composites programs sponsored by the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Industry panelists from automotive OEMs, wind energy, composites manufacturers, resin suppliers and aerospace presented a snapshot of the present state of the industry and offered a preview of the future of composites. Participants discussed current composites application challenges, including mechanical performance (durability, damage tolerance and fatigue), environmental performance (thermal exposure and erosion) and producibility and cost (high part count per engine and quality).

The spectrum of applications discussed by attendees ranged from swimming pools to aircraft. The following emerged as high-priority enablers to unlocking industry potential:

  • Reduced cycle time
  • Reduced carbon fiber costs
  • Reduced tooling costs
  • Composites recycling
  • Codes and standards to support new materials
  • Manufacturing processes
  • Education of engineers
  • Development of global supply chains

Participants also discussed the need for greater awareness of composites. “The composites industry needs to promote itself and benefits to the general public,” said Rob Klawonn, president of Toho Tenax America Inc. “Government agencies and existing composites users and their suppliers understand the strategic importance of composite materials, but the average consumer is lacking a fundamental recognition of composites as a material or family of materials that benefit them. Everyone knows about the advantages of aluminum and steel, but composites do not have a unified image in the minds of the general public.”

During the final portion of the roadmapping workshop, attendees focused on prioritizing the various pathways to success. “The difficult part, but also the most fun, will be in us taking all of this intelligence and really aligning and choosing to move forward with key areas of focus which will make the most impact to our members,” said Kimberly Howard, vice president and managing director for Glass Reinforcements, The Americas at Owens Corning.

During the next few months, information gathered in the workshop will be integrated in the roadmaps for the FIBERS and CAIIAC teams.

Dan Coughlin is ACMA’s vice president of composites market development. Contact him at or 202.760.0677.

Life Cycle Assessments

The use of life cycle assessments is a preferred method for comparing the environmental impact of one solution vs. another.  The following LCAs or environmental reviews provide insight to the impact of composite material use vs. alternative materials and when compared against other composites.

NREL maintains a large database of LCI information on their website, which can be accessed at:

The ACMA also provides an LCI tool to its members, which can be found here:

Life-Cycle Assessment of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composites in Commercial Aircraft

See for an abstract of this 2014 British study by the Universities of Sheffield, Cambridge, and University College London, which compares the environmental performance of composite aircraft such as the Boeing 787 or Airbus 350 to traditional aluminum airliners.

The authors concluded the following:

  • Due to the lower lifetime fuel consumption of the light composite plane, its overall environmental impact using a single life cycle assessment score is lower (note: lower score = better). Most of the impact reduction is due to lower CO2 emissions.
  • By 2050, estimated CO2 emissions from a global fleet of composite planes would be 14-15% lower than from a fleet of aluminum-based aircraft.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Tank LCA: FRP vs Concrete

See this link for this LCA study, conducted in 2008 as a student research project by Evrydiki Feeka, Forest Flagler, Nick Frieden, Tom Mercer, and Sarah Russell-Smith, under the guidance of Michael D. Lepech, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. The subject is a large holding tank to be installed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). The LCA compares a tank designed by Kreysler and Associates with FRP walls on a base of reinforced concrete with a tank constructed entirely of reinforced concrete. The study covered impacts from raw material production through disposal at end of the 20 year service life, and included life cycle cost data not normally considered during environmental LCAs. The authors concluded the following:

  • The FRP tank had a $300,000 lower cost of ownership across the service life of the tank.
  • The FRP tank was more sustainable, outperforming the concrete tank in terms of the most critical environmental attributes: embedded energy, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, and acidification.
  • For both materials of construction, primary impacts were in the raw material production phase, resin for FRP and cement for concrete.


Life-Cycle Evaluation of Aluminum and Composite Intensive Vehicles

See this link for this 1999 study by the University of Tennessee Center for Clean Products and Technologies comparing a 1994 Chrysler Intrepid sedan against two concept New Generation Vehicles (NGVs) employing advanced materials and drivetrains. Both NGVs were diesel-electric hybrids, one relying heavily on aluminum and the other on thermoplastic composites for weight reduction. Due to the design of the study, it is difficult to draw conclusions on the relative importance of material vs drivetrain. However, the authors conclude that for composite body panels, molded-in color and recycling would both significantly improve environmental performance.

Comparative LCA of Composite Wind Turbine Blades

See this link for this 1997 Dutch study by O.M. DeVagt and W.G. Haije, which compared functionally equivalent wind turbine blades made of glass-fiber reinforced polyester (GFRP), flax-fiber reinforced epoxy (FFRE), and carbon-fiber reinforced epoxy (CFRE). For each, an Eco-Indicator 95 score was calculated to aggregate life cycle impacts across all impact categories. Among study conclusions were the following:

  • Per turbine blade, the best (lowest Eco-Indicator score) was FFRE (1.85) vs CCRE (2.40) and GFRP (2.47). These differences are considered “slight.”
  • However, per cubic meter of composite alone, the best was GFRP (3.4) vs FFRE (6.6) and CCRE (11.8).
  • The marked difference in relative performance of GFRP between these two function unit scenarios is attributed to the greater amount of steel needed to attach the blades to the hub.

Comparative LCA of Sheet Molding Compound Reinforced by Natural Fiber vs. Glass Fiber

See this link for this 2012 study by Jinwu Wang (Washington State University), Sheldon Shi, and Kaiwen Liang (both University of North Texas). The functional unit compared was the mass of sheet molding compound (SMC) that would achieve equal stiffness and stability for production of interior automobile parts. Three composites were considered: traditional glass-fiber reinforced polyester (GFRP), kenaf-fiber reinforced polyester (KFRP), and kenaf-fiber reinforced 20% soy resin (KFSP). Study conclusions:

  • Environmental performance was best (lowest impact) for KFRP, followed by KFSP and GFRP.
  • Differences between the two kenaf SMCs were slight. Environmental performance of SMC was largely improved by substitution of renewable kenaf for glass as reinforcement.

Comparison of the Environmental Impacts from Utility Poles of Different Materials

See this link for this 2011 LCA study, conducted by Martin Erlandsson of the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, comparing (over the lifetime of 50 years) utility poles made of FRP with a polyethylene shell to those made of 50% recycled steel with a concrete base, creosoted wood, and steel-reinforced concrete.

The authors concluded the following:

  • Wood poles are "most competitive" based on all environmental aspects considered, followed by FRP and concrete poles.
  • FRP poles had the lowest contribution to human toxicity and ecotoxicity; steel poles the highest

Life-Cycle Assessment of Polymers in an Automotive Assist Step

See this link for this 2012 study by PE International for the American Chemistry Council, which compares (over a service life of 150,000 miles) a standard steel/plastic running board-assist step to a one-piece glass fiber reinforced polypropylene composite alternative, which is 51% lighter.

The authors concluded that the composite assist step outperformed (was better than) the standard version for global warming potential and primary energy demand, but was worse for acidification.

Build a Brighter Future for Composites

Get involved! Your engagement in composites advocacy will enable our industry to address legislators and regulators with a strong, unified voice. With the weight of the entire composites community behind our lobbying efforts, the message of the composites industry is able to truly resonate with policymakers across the nation. This will ensure that our views are heard on issues including worker safety, the environment, job creation, market development and trade policy.

Plant Tours

"The most basic reason to do a plant tour is to put a face--100 faces--to the issues we tackle. You can go to their office, but when they see a building with people, it makes a difference." -Jay Merrell, IDI Composites

Plant tours provide policymakers the unique opportunity to learn about composites manufacturing. Your company provides valuable jobs and produces innovative and important products. Do not assume that your Senator or Representative already knows about the industry--use this opportunity to teach them! By hearing directly from their constituents, Members of Congress know exactly how the decisions made in Washington will impact voters in their district. Host your Member of Congress and their staff on a tour so they can learn more about your company and your industry. This is the single best way to get national leaders interested in composites.

Take advantage of the time Senators and Represenatives will be spending in their districts and protect the interests of your business by scheduling a Congressional plant tour for one of the upcoming district work weeks.  The Government Affairs staff at ACMA is here to help you make the most out of your plant tour, and we have developed a guidebook to help you every step of the way. 

For additional assistance with plant tours please email or call (571) 645-5266.


Five Easy Steps to Get Composites on the Agenda:

1. Meet with your Member of Congress in their District Office
2. Host a Congressional Plant Tour
3. Participate in ACMA's Next Legislative Fly-In
4. Donate to the Composites Advocacy Fund
5. Participate in ACMA PAC

GCC Biocomposites Reference Library

Many opportunities exist for composites to utilize bio based raw materials.  The use of bio based materials can provide many environmental benefits.  Click the link below to access the Green Composites Council's reference library document containing over 250 journal articles and presentations pertaining to biocomposites:

GCC Biocomposites Library

Marketing & Communications Committee

Description: Works with staff to develop compelling content and identify appropriate vehicles for effectively promoting the advantages of composites and positioning ACMA as the "voice" of the composites industry. Evaluates and prioritizes outreach strategies and initiatives based on available association resources. Provides ACMA members, stakeholders and end users of composite products with timely, usable information that is relevant to – and consistent with – the mission and strategic plans of ACMA and may offer revenue generation in keeping with the organization’s goals.

Types of People:

Communications and marketing specialists


2 year term; approximately 3 conference calls and 1 in-person meeting a year.