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Philippe Michaud, Global Technology and Innovation Director, Huntsman Advanced Materials "Bio-derived Composites Can Penetrate the Mass Fibre and Carbon Fibre Markets"

Huntsman Advanced Materials is a leading global supplier of synthetic and formulated polymer systems for customers requiring high performance materials which outperform the properties, functionality and durability of traditional materials. In an exclusive interview Philippe Michaud, Global Technology and Innovation Director, Huntsman Advanced Materials shares his experience with Editor, Lucintel, K. Venkateshwar. Rao. Excerpts:

1. What are the key drivers for composites consumption?

Philippe Michaud: There is one key driver making composites the material of choice for an increasing number of applications; its lightweight properties. Additional benefits, that differ from industry to industry, also lead to the selection of composites. In the aerospace industry for example, the usage of composites for the fuselage is a driving factor for reducing fuel consumption while creating better passenger comfort through higher humidity and pressure in the cabin. Whilst in the automotive industry, achieving styling flexibility is a key factor alongside the all important objective of enhancing the power to weight ratio in the production of performance cars and the electric cars of the not too distant future.

Other growth drivers include the ability to replace multiple parts made from various materials with one piece composite components. This minimizes parts handling and assembly operations, creating significant time and cost savings, whilst yielding much more flexibility in design. You can build parts with composite materials that you simply cannot build with other materials and these materials have to be lightweight, otherwise you will not be able to meet the needs of the main adopters.

2. What are some of the key challenges faced by Your Companies in the composites market?

Philippe Michaud: New composites applications frequently entail new product development and or new part manufacturing processes. The challenge lies in offering an integrated solution to our customers which encompasses both chemistry and process engineering technology. Requirements ‘capture’ lies at the front end of the new product development cycle. At this stage it’s vitally important to glean a thorough understanding of an engineer’s requirements in order to translate this into a viable solution capable of achieving commercial success through properties and cost optimisation.

3. Tell us about the impact of government policies on the composites industry.

Philippe Michaud: Within the automotive industry, the targets and policy statements introduced by governments to lower emissions and foster greater energy (fuel or electricity) efficiency has created a global push towards greater composites usage. Carbon fibre composite technology is now firmly placed within the lightweight construction strategies of many of the major car manufacturers (i.e. BMW recently unveiled its composite intensive Megacity vehicle, an all-electric passenger car). Lightweight materials and structures are opening up opportunities for low emission vehicles and delivering optimised designs without making compromises on style or function. Current legislation demands improved environmental performance and this has presented a wealth of opportunity for new ideas and innovations concerning the use of composites across the entire supply chain.

4. What are the key challenges faced by composite end-users?

Philippe Michaud: The greater focus being placed on product life cycle assessment (from cradle to grave) has brought attention to composites recycling. Whilst composites provide valuable environmental savings during their life, the life of materials lying in landfills is almost infinite. Recycling is not an easy process as most composite products are manufactured with thermoset resins such as epoxy or vinyl ester. However, a better solution needs to be found to recover valuable reinforced fibres and to reduce the environmental impact caused by the disposal of waste over time.

5. Is Government support and policy change required to encourage exports of composite components?

Philippe Michaud: Lightweight composites have been placed in the limelight due to their propensity to support lowered emissions. As a result, we continue to see high levels of support from the EU and investment in composite development related projects, especially in the aerospace industry. Huntsman is an active partner in challenging research projects funded by the EU, such as PreCarBi and Laysa. The PreCarBi project is focusing on the development of new materials for out-of-autoclave parts manufacturing for faster and cheaper parts production, while the Laysa project is aimed at replacing heavy metal conductive elements for fuselage shielding by lightweight solutions.

6. What emerging applications do you foresee having a significant bearing on composites consumption?

Philippe Michaud: Whilst currently in the early stages of development, we believe bio-derived composites have the potential to take on the mass fibre market and to even penetrate the carbon market. Green materials (bio-derived chemicals and/or natural fibres) offer potential for a reduced environmental footprint, greater sustainability and lower costs, providing advantages for an increased number of diverse applications from sports goods to automotive parts and electronics

7. How has global slowdown affected the market? How has your organisation's growth in the last 2-3 years been and how do you foresee growth moving forwards?

Philippe Michaud: Like all major suppliers, we have seen the effects of the global slowdown, which has been particularly noticeable in the aerospace industry. However, there is every sign that economic recovery is getting underway. According to the International Monetary Fund, in the first quarter of 2010 the world economy expanded at an annualised rate of over 5% and strong growth was seen in many emerging and developing economies.

8. Do you see high potential for composites in the market? If yes, what are the reasons for this?

Philippe Michaud: Today, it is actually hard to find an industry in which composites are not used. Composites have been adopted across many sectors, whether in response to government policy on reduced energy consumption and lowered emissions or to develop and sustain competitive strength, or both. In terms of what the future holds, if we effectively address the whole lifecycle equation for composites, we are likely to witness extremely high potential for growth in the composites market.

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