Plastics are playing a prominent role in the development of innovative new composite materials and applications in Asia, including making cars and trains more energy efficient and promoting eco-friendly products, at least judging by the winners of one of the region's most prominent composites awards.
The JEC Innovation Awards, given out June 26 on opening day of the JEC Asia Composites show in Singapore, provide a look at indigenous advancements in Asia. Show organizers said Asia is the fastest-growing market for composites and is likely to account for more than 50 percent of worldwide demand by 2015.
Paris-based JEC Group, which claims to be the world's largest composite organization, said the awards reflect attention that Asia-Pacific firms are giving to research and development based on locally renewable resources, new energy and recycling.
“Asia-Pacific countries have established significant R&D capacity in composites,” said Frederique Mutel, JEC's president and CEO. The Asia show ran from June 26-28.
JEC also gave a Lifetime Achievement award to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamed for his role in helping to develop Malaysia's composites industry.
Mahathir — named Asia's newsmaker of the year by Time magazine in 1998 — said at the JEC ceremony that composites are the “material of the future” because of their potential to make cars, planes and other transit systems lighter, thereby reducing fuel consumption and fighting global warming.
Many of the award winners were focused on lightweighting.
Tokyo University, for example, was honored for a low-cost method of mass-producing carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic prepregs for auto parts.
The technology uses a matrix resin of polypropylene or polyamide to produce parts that can help reduce the weight of auto bodies by 40-70 percent. The CFR parts are currently in prototype design and trial manufacturing phases with major Japanese automakers, according to a JEC news release.
The work was done in partnership with Japanese firms Toray Industries Inc., Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd., Toyobo Co. Ltd. and Takagi Seiko Co. Ltd.
Researchers said the technology allows for mass production of components for “ultralightweight cars,” and the material is recyclable.
JEC estimated that by 2030, 10 million cars a year will be made with at least 220 pounds of such carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic materials.
Companies in Malaysia and South Korea were honored for their work using plastic composites in trains.
DK Composites Sdn. Bhd. in Melaka, Malaysia, for example, has developed materials with PET foam and acrylic resin to reduce the weight of key light-rail train-car components by half.
According to DK, the materials are being used on ceilings, seats, apron doors and nose cabs for monorail systems in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Mumbai, India, replacing traditional aluminum, steel and existing composite parts.
There are substantial market opportunities for the glass-fiber-reinforced plastic parts, the company said.
“The target market is the complete renovation of Malaysia's railway and mass-transit systems using lightweight composites to replace metal parts for coachwork, internal furniture and related parts,” DK said.
“This development will make Malaysia a leading provider of GFRP components for rail transport in the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries.”
Partners on the project were Gurit GmbH of Kassel, Germany, and the structural materials business unit of Umeco plc, based in Leamington Spa, England.
The South Korean project uses GFRP components to make significantly lighter bogie frames for rail cars.
The bogie frames help the cars handle braking, accelerating and twisting. Such technology can reduce the axle load, which in turn can help develop faster and higher-capacity trains, according to the Korea Railroad Research Institute, which won the award.
The GFRP frame is 30 percent lighter than a conventional steel frame, reducing the weight of a 10-car subway train by more than 6 tons and resulting in less wear and tear on rails. The technology will undergo full-scale tests for two years beginning in October, and could potentially be used on 6,000 subway cars in Korea, the institute said.
One Chinese company, Wuxi-based Wuxi Adesso Nanotech Co. Ltd., captured an award for what it said are the world's first recyclable epoxies, which allow both the epoxies and the components in contact with the epoxies — including carbon, glass or natural fibers — to be reused in new epoxy composites.
Other plastics-related winners include:
* Australia's Tractile Pty. Ltd. of Southport, for what it said is the first solar panel to create electricity and heat water in a single roof-tile package, using a sheet molding compound manufacturing process.
* The Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai won for a houseboat that makes extensive use of glass- and fiber-reinforced-plastic parts, including for its hull, flooring and interior panels. The houseboat, which is used in the country's tourism industry, is lighter and stronger than the wood-hulled boats it replaces, and can be made 20 percent cheaper and in less than half the time, according to the Indian technology institute.
* Quickstep Technology Pty. Ltd. of North Coogee, Australia, for a resin spray transfer manufacturing technology used in manufacturing lightweight auto parts. Quickstep said it was appointed in November to lead a development project funded by the German government and carmaker Audi AG.
* Malaysian oil and petrochemicals manufacturer Petronas, based in Kuala Lumpur, for a composite epoxy resin used to repair underwater pipes in the oil and gas industry and to protect against corrosion. The composite epoxy resin was jointly developed with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.