JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
According to statistics recently released by the China UPR Industry Association and the FRP Specialized Academy of Jiangsu Province Silicate Academy, Chinese production of unsaturated polyester resin (UPR) amounted to 1.15 million metric tons in 2006. This is up 22% over the previous year, and the highest growth since 2000. UPR exports reached 26,000 tons and imports, 94,000 tons. Total 2006 market consumption in China was 1.22 million tons.
(Published on September 2007 – JEC Magazine #35)
ZHAO HONGHAN, CHINA UPR INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
In 2006, the five provinces and two municipalities that are located on the south-eastern coast of China produced 1.10 million tons of unsaturated polyester resin (UPR), equivalent to 95.6% of China’s total domestic production. The Jiangsu Province continues to lead for production volume, with 42.6% of the total. Shanghai and Jiangsu play a very important role in this industry in terms of brands, variety and quality of UPR. They boast technologically advanced state-owned enterprises such as Tianma, Feilong and Huachang, and also outstanding and flourishing private companies such as Yabang, Tianhe and Fuling. Both places are also home to companies like Eternal, Swancor and Showa, which have a brand advantage in the Southeast Asia UPR market, and to the manufacturing branches in China of famous international companies such as DSM, Ashland, and DIC.
The Yangtze River Delta area has always played a leading role in the Chinese composite industry. The contribution of the area’s many colleges and research institutes to scientific and technological innovation has boosted FRP and composite development there.
A dynamic market
UPR’s fast growth in China during 2006 is the result of brisk demand in the FRP and composite markets, both domestic and foreign. The economic construction of China is benefiting from the rapidly climbing export demand, which is due to a number of things: the country’s stable political situation; its interest rate policy, high deposit interest rate, and rich human resources; the introduction of new technology; a new prosperity, and the development of the global economy. In 2006, the Chinese production of glass fibre reached 1.16 million tons, of which 0.83 million tons were exported to various countries. Exports to South East Asia accounted for 30% of the total. As a result, glass fibre supply cannot meet the demand of the domestic industry. There is also strong demand from abroad for processed UPR products for a variety of high-volume applications that include artefacts, artificial marbles, buttons, boats, vehicle parts, tanks and pipes, gratings, cooling towers, SMC doors, electrical-insulation parts, electrical poles, sports equipment, SMC semifinished products, etc. It is estimated that the exports account for 35% of China’s total FRP and composite output. In order to meet the demand, many enterprises have taken on foreign designers and domestic high-tech personnel to strengthen their competitive edge in the international market.
In 2006, many new applications for these materials began to appear, due to the flourishing development of various sectors of the national economy and a better understanding and utilization of FRP and composites. This led to a surge in the corresponding Chinese domestic market. New-product development in turn triggered the development of various types of processing techniques and a growing use of automated processes.
Design can be used to combine different types of raw materials and bring unique characteristics into play, such as lower weight, integration of functions, modularity and smart properties. These light but very strong materials continue to demonstrate how essential they are in any number of application areas. Over the past decade, the intensive development of glass fibre and glass-fibre products has provided many functional fibres that meet the requirements of FRP design and manufacturing in China.
The development of equipment technology is driving domestic applications for FRP and composite materials in China. For instance, Jiangsu Wuxi Hengda Chemical Machinery Co., Ltd. has been tracking the development of UPR processing at home and abroad for the past 20 years, continuously enhancing its equipment manufacturing technology. The company recently developed alcohol recycling devices to enhance the resin yields of UPR producers and lower their production costs. Some FRP equipment manufacturers in China have been introducing advanced foreign technologies over the past decade and developing their own machinery. These technologies include SMC, BMC, pultrusion, filament winding, artificial stone, and continuous panel making. China’s largest mould manufacturing base is located in Taizhou and Ningbo (Zhejiang Province). All this equipment serves to meet China’s FRP development and export requirements in low-cost, high-volume applications.
To promote the application of domestic FRP and composite materials, some famous domestic and foreign-funded enterprises have established a series of service platforms to provide downstream companies with material and technical support. Services include a complete set of standard testing methods that are applied to liquid resins, casting resins, FRP parts, processing methods, structural design and application data such as ageing and fatigue properties.
As the wind-energy “wave” is reaching the domestic market, European and American resin producers have been accumulating material performance data for the manufacture of large blades. As soon as China acquires foreign windenergy technology, these companies will no doubt establish cooperative partnerships with Chinese blade manufacturers. An example of this type of cooperation in operation is the flue gas desulphurization (FGD) technology China uses in its coal-fired electric power plants, which is driving epoxy/vinylesterresin applications based on German engineering design.
China has also become the world’s export base for pianos and violins, giving rise to applications for high-quality polyester coatings. And FRP shipbuilding in China is getting a boost from a lot of European, American and Taiwanese companies that are getting a foothold on the mainland, propelling Chinese luxury FRP boats into the world yacht market. Domestic UPR producers, which must have their product approved by international marine societies, try to help FRP boat manufacturers to make good use of their materials.
The cost issue
To promote the application of Chinese FRPs and composite materials, some resin producers are developing a series of universal resins with a suitable cost/performance ratio and a wide scope of application for high-volume production using low-cost technology. The low-cost resins are developed to meet the market demand, and help to give FRP enterprises a competitive edge with respect to other materials in the market.
While some FRP enterprises find it difficult to accept the constantly rising prices of epoxy/vinylester resins, the Shanghai Huachang Company has responded by developing a resin and catalyst using PTA and PET waste from Shanghai Petrochemicals. Another example of new development is China Yabang and Tianjin Hecai’s DCPD modified UPR, which has been hailed by FRP enterprises as a low-cost, highperformance resin. Annual production of this resin nationwide has already reached 150,000 metric tons.
The Chinese UPR industry is facing a good outlook in terms of continuous development of the international and domestic markets over the next five to ten years. There is an imbalance in the present UPR development pattern of China, however, as UPR production is concentrated in the coastal areas. The development of composite materials in China’s midwestern and north-eastern regions, as well as in the surrounding countries and regions, will boost UPR production and export demand. UPR production should exceed 1.25 million tons in 2007, to reach around 1.5 million tons by 2010. Within a few years, as the market economy improves, the focus will turn to UPR quality, varieties and brands. UPR development in China is still in the early stages. Some international UPR companies are entering the Chinese market to share their experience with local enterprises, connecting them with the global market. To take one example, Jiangsu Yabang Coating Company was just another small, unknown factory twenty years ago. Ten years later, it began to position itself in the market; today, it is the leading UPR producer in volume throughout China.
The UPR industry will continue to adhere to independent innovation and technological creation, to consolidate and expand the present market, and to seek new markets by participating in the competition for other composite materials. The Chinese composite market is highly diversified, with engineering plastics, rubber plastics, epoxy- and phenolic-based fibre-reinforced composites, and inorganic binders all playing important roles, together with UPR. Because of its unique processing properties, like curing at room temperature, simple processing methods, design freedom, and a good cost/performance ratio, UPR is widely used in large, complex FRP parts. Highperformance FRP products generate stringent demands on resins. For example, wind-turbine blades require high flame retardancy, high-pressure resistance, ageing resistance, high temperature resistance, corrosion resistance, electricity conduction, compact resistance, highly elasticity, and more.
UPR manufacturing technology needs some breakthroughs to make it much more efficient, to automate the processes, and to allow higher volumes. Recently, Changchun Dacheng Group Co., Ltd. and Donghua University Changchun Dacheng Biological Polyol Test Centre successfully developed biochemical glycols, which will go into commercial production in August 2007 with an annual production volume of 200,000 tons. This is good news for UPR companies. Changchun Dacheng Test Centre gathered data for more than a year after providing samples to resin producers. The polyol contains a lot of propylene, ethylene and butylene glycols, and feedback from the resin producers has consistently shown that it enhances the performance of general-purpose resins. The production of corn biochemical glycols is a solution to the problems and pressures of relying on petrochemical glycols. Another Chinese enterprise has also successfully developed biochemical alcohol, following in the footsteps of multinational chemical companies such as DuPont and Dow Chemical.
UPR has been developing internationally for at least seventy years, since the 1940s.
In China, the first mass-production UPR technology was introduced from abroad fifty years ago, in 1966. Since then, Chinese UPR production volume has climbed to first place worldwide. However, there is still a major gap with its foreign counterparts, especially in terms of environmental protection. China also has some serious deficiencies in the area of UPR additives, and peroxide and accelerator quality. Intellectual property rights also need to be strengthened. Taking advantage of the current good situation in terms of global economic development, the Chinese UPR industry is establishing strategic alliances and cooperative platforms with FRP and composite companies. It continues to promote independent innovation and to seize market opportunities in order to expand and strengthen its position.