Q: Firstly, please briefly describe your background in composites
After working in market research and sales in thermoplastics for three years with Monsanto Europe, I spent 19 years with Owens Corning in various segments of the glass fibre market covering thermoset and thermoplastic reinforcement both on the sales/marketing and technical sides. Before leaving to work for OC in the US in 1995, I held the position of VP Sales and Marketing for Composites in Europe and then in the US, the position of VP and Leader of the Global Materials Application Development Center. For the last 16 years, since I founded Connectra, I have been doing business development consulting in materials with a high focus on composites and in particular on carbon fibre reinforced composites. This has included multiple global market studies and entry strategy development related to the carbon fibre market as well as in depth studies of specific carbon fibre segments of interest to Connectra's clients.
Q: Your presentation will evaluate the market for pressure vessels - how significant an opportunity is this for carbon fibre?
It is still early days by measure of typical composite application development times, but current signs point to this becoming a very significant end use for carbon fibre, particularly in the sector of alternative fuels, for vehicles using CNG or hydrogen as a fuel. This sector is showing sustained global 15-20% annual growth in terms of number of vehicles with such fuel systems and the outlook is that this will continue at the same pace for the next five to ten years.
Q: Lots of the drivers are based around renewable energy. We have previously seen the wind energy market suffer in the tougher economic climate, do you think there is the same risk for pressure vessel applications?
Apart from the technical challenges wind blade production and operation present, the wind energy investors appear to have been having trouble making the economic case work without subsidies. With the development of shale gas, bio-methane and hydrogen, which are in plentiful supply and affordable, the challenge is more focused on the technical issues and moving to the lowest possible weight of vessel while keeping the vessel price premium versus alternatives acceptable.
Q: Is this an easy market to enter, or are there high barriers for new companies looking to develop products?
Obviously for a vessel operating at high pressure and subject to a large number of cycles during its lifetime, safety is a key concern. Qualification times are long and players need to be absolutely committed to operating a top level quality system. As a result what we have been seeing over the past five years is some of the larger metal cylinder global players, for example Luxfer and Worthington, embark on a path of acquiring specialist composite pressure vessel producers.
Q: Can you touch on the technical challenges for using carbon fibre in these applications?
Historically the key challenges have been to ensure a) a good seal at the joint between the epoxy based composite and the metal valve b) that a good bond maintained between the metal or thermoplastic liner and the composite body and c) that in the case of Type IV vessels the plastic liner itself is not damaged in any way through, for instance embrittlement. Interesting developments are now taking place, for instance, in the use of thermoplastic based carbon fibre UD tapes wound around a liner made of the same thermoplastic material as the matrix of the tapes.
Q: Finally, we are pleased to have you back at the conference again this year, what are you hoping to gain from your participation?
The carbon fibre based composites industry is still in its early stages of development as compared to glass fibre and so a lot of work is being done at all levels of the supply chain to improve performance and lower cost. The GoCarbonFibre conference is a very useful and effective event to catch up with that broad spectrum of global technical and commercial developments, as well as providing the opportunity to network with a wide variety of industry specialists and potential clients from around the world.