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European Fiber Reinforced Plastics Market Report 2021
 July 18, 2022
After a long period of growth from 2013 to 2018, the Covid-19 pandemic and many other negative factors that started in February 2020 have severely affected not only the economy as a whole, but the industrial sector and the composites market in particular.

Composite production in Europe fell by more than 15% between 2018 and 2020. In 2021, this trend is clearly reversed, with a growth rate of 18.3% and a total composite market of 2.962 million tons. This market has grown so rapidly that after just two years, it has almost returned to the pre-crisis level of 2018 (3.046 million tonnes). This growth is significantly higher than the 5.3% overall economic growth for 2021 reported by the European Commission.

The global composites market is also growing strongly, increasing from 11.2 million tons to 12.1 million tons in 2021, a growth rate of 8%. Overall, the growth momentum of the European market is higher than that of the global market. Europe's share of the world market is about 25%, similar to that of the United States. Asia currently accounts for around 50% of global production.

While the impact of Covid-19 has long dominated global market activity (and Europe is no exception), its impact in Europe is slowing. The industrial sector faces many other challenges in 2021, but their impact on the fiber composites industry varies widely. These challenges include: continued weakness in European auto sales; aviation has not regained its former strength; logistics costs are very high, and energy costs have recently risen high; lack of supplies of raw materials and semi-finished products; in addition, a marked increase in political tensions, such as the current war in Ukraine.

All of these factors have led to great uncertainty in the market, complicating the task of forecasting future developments. Markets are becoming more volatile. The very strong international connections in the composites industry also mean that events outside the core market have a significant impact on market activity.
Despite the many obstacles, important application areas have very positive developments in 2021. The market share of composite materials (excluding carbon fiber reinforced materials) by application in 2021 is: transportation (52.8%), construction (18.7%), electrical/electronics (18.4), sports and entertainment (8.5%), other ( 1.6%).

Regionally, Germany, Spain/Portugal, Italy and Eastern European countries continue to maintain their strong positions in the European environment. Germany remains the country with the highest trading volume in the market, accounting for nearly 20% of the total market. These four regions together account for two-thirds of the European market transaction volume.

Glass fibre reinforced plastic (GRP) still account for more than 95% of the overall market. In contrast, other material systems such as CRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) and NRP (Natural Fiber Reinforced Plastic) are still considered specialty materials. However, they continue to be actively developed in the corresponding fields of application.
Development trends of various molding processes/products
1. NCF - non-buckling fabric
For the first time, non-crimp fabrics are listed separately in the annual report. Over the past decade, this market has grown by nearly 40%. The market level in 2011 was 220,000 tons, while in 2021 it reached 302,000 tons. The main fields of application for non-crimp fabrics are the wind energy industry and shipbuilding, but these materials also have many applications in transportation/public transport, sports and leisure, construction and infrastructure.

The wind energy industry, in particular, is likely to be a key driver for flex-free glass fiber fabrics in the coming years, and one of the industries that underpins the growth of the composites market.
SMC (sheet molding compound) and BMC (bulk molding compound) products are the second largest market for the European GRP industry, with a combined production of 278,000 tons of these two molding compounds. In 2021, the SMC/BMC market will grow by 13.9%.

SMC/BMC is mainly used for large-scale serial product production. Both materials have been used for many years in the electrical/electronics and transportation fields.

The SMC/BMC industry continues to work on a wide range of product innovations and upgrades. The most important of these are high-performance SMC (carbon fiber reinforced SMC), continuous fiber reinforced SMC and natural fiber reinforced SMC.
3. Open mold forming method
In 2021, open-die forming methods - hand lay-up and spray-up - produced a total of 232,000 tonnes, an increase of 11%. They remain one of the largest segments of the European GRP market.

At the moment, this very positive development is a reversal of the general trend. The overall market share of the open-die method has been steadily declining over the years. However, with the outbreak, the demand for some specific uses has increased significantly. For example, the construction of home swimming pools has caught fire in many places due to the lockdown and its associated travel restrictions.

Overall, the open mold forming process will still make an important contribution to the production of GRP in the coming years. In fact, they are often the preferred method, especially in the field of custom or low-volume products, because of their lower investment costs.

However, persistent and increasingly stringent operating regulations, especially on unsaturated polyester/styrene, and changes in other raw material limits have made these processes increasingly expensive and difficult to produce in Europe.
4. RTM
In this report, RTM (Resin Transfer Molding) includes all processes that infuse/inject resin into a closed mold cavity, including various injection processes (such as HP-RTM, P-RTM, RTM-Light) as well as infusion processes. This section excludes those RTM processes using non-crimp fabrics (as described above).

Over the years, the industry has developed several RTM processes. All processes use dry fibers/fiber semi-finished products. After the reinforcement (fiber glass product or core material, etc.) is added to the mould, the mould is closed/sealed and the resin is introduced into the closed mould cavity under pressure and/or vacuum. The resin flows around or through the fibers and any additional products/semi-finished products.

RTM can be used to manufacture small or large series of products, small and large products can be manufactured. In addition, it is suitable for a wide variety of fibers and matrix materials. Often, it also uses the corresponding prefab.
5. Continuous molding method
In 2021, GRP products produced by continuous forming processes (direct roving for pultrusion and flat sheet manufacturing) will grow by 9.6%, slightly below the industry average growth rate. Among them, the output of pultruded products increased by 12%, and the output of flat plate increased by 8.6%.

For many years, flatbeds have primarily been used in vehicles such as truck side panels, motorhome superstructures or retrofits for commercial vehicles. It is also used for building facades. Like swimming pool construction, the RV industry is benefiting from unusual market conditions, especially in 2020.

Continuous profiles are manufactured by pultrusion. Along with SMC/BMC technology and thermoplastic composites, pultrusion is widely considered to be extremely promising.
6. Pipes and storage tanks
The market for GRP pipes and tanks manufactured using centrifugal forming or filament winding processes will grow by 5.4% in 2021, well below the market-wide average. The total output in 2021 will be 137,000 tons, of which 72,000 tons will be produced by the fiberglass winding roving and 65,000 tons by the centrifugal process. The growth of the filament winding process (2.9%) was significantly lower than that of the centrifugal process (8.3%).

GRP pipes and storage tanks are mainly used in plant construction and public/private pipelines as well as in the oil/gas and chemical industries.

The pipeline and storage tank industry still has strong growth potential that can be tapped by further raising public awareness of this material. There is also a lot of research activity going on, especially in the field of filament winding technology. For example, winding hydrogen storage tanks (using carbon fibers) are currently being researched, which can withstand pressures of a few hundred bars while maintaining a very low weight.
LFT means long fiber reinforced thermoplastic, GMT means glass fiber chopped mat reinforced thermoplastic, and CFRTP means continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic.

In 2021, the GMT market is the only one not growing, actually down 6.9%. Total LFT production was 119,000 tonnes, an increase of 28%. This makes it the fastest growing material type in 2021. Continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastics are still a niche product, with a stable market volume of 10,000 tons.

Growth in this segment of the market is particularly relevant to the transportation industry. This is likely due in large part to a compensatory effect on the impact of the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic (which saw commercial vehicle registrations fall) - new registrations for commercial vehicles in 2021 increased significantly and alternative materials were used accordingly.
8. Short fiber reinforced thermoplastics
There are some notable differences in the properties of short fiber reinforced plastics and long fiber or continuous fiber reinforced plastics. However, these important materials are still composites. The glass fibers used here are typically less than 2 mm in length. The properties of these materials are indeed improved compared to unreinforced plastics. Most importantly, they have a positive effect on the elastic modulus and stiffness of the material. As fiber length increases, so does the strength and impact resistance of the composite.

In 2021, the European staple fiber reinforced thermoplastics market will grow at a rate of 25.6%. Production increased to 1,504,000 tonnes, making it by far the largest single segment in the composites industry. However, despite the extraordinary growth, 2021 has not fully recovered to pre-crisis levels.
9. Other composites --- CRP and NRP
CRP means carbon fiber reinforced plastic, and NRP means natural fiber reinforced plastic.

In 2021, the CRP market will grow very actively, increasing by more than 23% compared to 2020. Global market volumes increased to 147,500 tonnes, with Europe accounting for about a third. The total market in Europe increased to 52,000 tons.

There is currently no new information on the NRP market. According to the 2020 AVK survey within the NRP industry, this specialty composites industry mainly uses thermoplastics, but also thermosets. Unfortunately, there are currently no precise data on these materials. However, it can be estimated that the market for these materials in Europe is at least 90,000 tonnes. The 2012 production survey recorded 92,000 tonnes.

The largest application area of ​​NRP is the automotive industry, followed by the consumer goods industry. The fibers used are mainly flax, hemp, jute and kenaf. The main moulding process is compression moulding, but injection moulding and extrusion moulding are also used. The main processors in Europe are Germany, France and several Eastern European countries (Poland, Czech Republic and Slovenia).

Natural fiber reinforced plastics are mainly used for their special material properties (light weight, low cost, sound insulation, good mechanical properties). They also help reduce a product's environmental impact. This area appears to be particularly rich in future market opportunities.
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