The Owens Corning Composite App Challenge is focused on drawing entrants in four categories to help resolve some of society’s pressing issues:

  • Infrastructure durability: Long-lasting infrastructure is critical to clean drinking water and preventing bridges, streets and buildings from crumbling and having to be replaced. Composites are corrosion resistant and can help build and re-build a more durable, more sustainable future and ensure a positive quality of life.
  • Fuel efficiency: Cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships sip less fuel when they’re lighter. Composites are able to help reduce weight and improve energy efficiency.
  • Renewable energy: Large-scale wind energy is not practical without composite materials – and they are key to many other emerging technologies such as wave energy and ocean thermal systems.
  • Protection from harm: Around the world, soldiers’ lives are at risk. Composite materials provide a lightweight shield in the line of fire – either for personal or vehicle protection. Applications today have only just scratched the surface of what these versatile materials can do to save lives.

“The world has never been more in need of the corrosion-resistant, energy-efficient, protective properties composites delivers," says Ashish Diwanji, vice president of innovation for the Owens Corning Composite Solutions Business. "With this competition we are looking for the next big application to help change the world in the way only composites materials can, and help drive the growth of the industry.”

A total of US$250 000 will be available in prize money:

  • a $200 000 commercial development award for a composite application that can be introduced by the end of 2012; and
  • a total of $50 000 for four composite application ideas that effectively address market needs, appear to be technically feasible, and have a perceived market opportunity.

One $20 000 award is for anyone and three $10 000 awards are reserved for students.

Competition schedule:

  • Ideas must be submitted via the Owens Corning competition website by 15 July 2010;
  • Up to 20 entrants will be selected and invited in early August to provide additional information for a second round of review at the end of November. Judges will be looking at the content of the idea, the potential market opportunity, the time needed to commercialise the application, the business case, technical feasibility and the contestant’s ability to commercialise the application or solution.
  • Eight finalists will be selected and invited to present their ideas. Final decisions will be made on the likelihood of scalability and long-term success.
  • Winners will be announced in February 2011, at the trade show hosted by the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA.

“As a company, we continually invest millions of dollars globally in innovation to enhance existing products and develop new technologies and solutions,” says Owens Corning's Diwanji. “This competition is about joining forces with other great thinkers with great ideas, and driving the speed at which composites is transforming the future of the materials market even more quickly.”

Owens Corning (NYSE:OC), Toledo, Ohio, USA, is a global producer of glass fibre reinforcements for composite systems and residential and commercial building materials.

Owens Corning's top 10 composite* applications to date

Strong, lightweight aircraft parts

As early as 1942, glass reinforced polyester aircraft parts were being produced in the USA. These were low pressure plastic laminates made from glass cloth impregnated with resin. These early aviation applications helped the industry experience the strength, light weight and durability of composite materials first hand. Composites continue to be used in today’s most advanced commercial aircraft as airlines demand lighter planes for increased payload and reduced fuel use. Composite applications now range from flooring and cargo containers to fuselage and cabin components.

Low maintenance boat hulls

Made with glass cloth cured over a flimsy canoe-type hull, the first composite boat hull sank during its maiden voyage. Despite that setback, development work continued and Ray Greene is credited with making the first composite boats for sale, starting with a small dingy. Composites ultimately revolutionised the marine industry with low-maintenance watercraft that allow owners to enjoy more time on the water and spend less time performing annual maintenance chores.

Stylish, rust-free cars

William Stout developed the first car with a fibre reinforced plastic (FRP) body in 1945. Although the Stout-Scarab never went into commercial production, the vehicle was a breakthrough in thinking that others followed. In 1953,General Motors and the Kaiser-Willys Company both launched production cars with FRP bodies – the Chevrolet Corvette and the Kaiser-Darrin. Corvette is one of the longest-running nameplates in Chevrolet history and GM currently builds as many as 35 000 units a year. The total since 1953 surpassed 1.5 million during the 2007 model year. Composite parts on cars and trucks today range from engine valve covers and rear deck spoilers of sports cars to the cabs and trailers of 18-wheelers.

One-piece shower enclosure

The concept of a one-piece moulded shower stall and tub has been around since at least the 1920s when it was a feature of Buckminster Fuller’s visionary Dymaxion House. Glass reinforced plastics hadn’t been developed yet so Fuller’s design called for stamped copper, which may be why the concept never saw widespread commercial production. We haven’t been able to determine who made the first FRP shower enclosure or when, but the application continues to keep fabricators busy today. The shower stall also showed homeowners some of the benefits of FRP – leak-proof construction and easy cleaning without frequent caulking, for example – which has since spawned a myriad of other uses in homes including cast polymer countertops, and the spas and pools.

Lively, strong & durable poles

Invented by Dr.Arthur M.Howald and introduced by The Shakespeare Company in 1947, the composite pole revolutionised the fishing rod market and made bamboo and steel virtually obsolete. The fishing pole’s larger cousin, the vaulting pole, soon followed and made a name for composites as vaulting records moved up to new heights. Today, solid and hollow poles come in a variety of lengths and diameters for applications ranging from power distribution to telecommunication, lighting and flag display. Matrix materials have expanded to include both polymers and concrete but one thing remains the same – composite poles are still replacing traditional materials including wood, steel, aluminum and, yes, bamboo.

Corrosion-resistant pipe & tanks

Composite pipe and tanks could be considered two separate applications that are similar in their construction and benefits. According to the Fiberglass Tank and Pipe Institute, FRP first became a viable alternative to protected and stainless steel for pipe in 1950 when centrifugal cast fibreglass piping was first used as a solution to corrosion problems in the oil production industry. Development work for underground gasoline storage tanks led to the construction of a pilot plant in 1963, and by 1985 the industry had produced more than 100 000 composite tanks. Composite pipe and tanks are in demand today for oil fields, chemical processing, flue gas desulphurisation (FGD), desalination facilities, and water and sewage systems.

Lightweight, spall-resistant ballistic armour

One of the first applications of composite armour was on CAV 100 vehicles used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to protect workers aiding civilians fleeing combat zones. Composite armour was made by high-pressure compression moulding multiple layers of high-strength glass in epoxy resin. An important performance benefit was the reduction of spall, the deadly fragments that can come from the back side of metal armour when hit by a projectile. Today, military vehicle manufacturers are exploiting the ability of composites to combine structure and protection in an integrated solution.

Strong & durable profiles

The process of 'pulling' resin-rich reinforcements through a heated die to create a continuous composite profile was developed in the 1950s by W. Brant Goldsworthy, the person many consider to be 'the father of composites.' Profiles in familiar shapes enable engineers to use the material as a basic component replacing metal and wood parts. Corrosion resistance makes composite profiles a popular choice for hostile environments such as chemical processing plants and seaside marinas. Cooling towers are one of the latest structures to capitalise on the durability of composite profiles.

Moisture-resistant roofing shingles

Asphalt shingles were a popular choice for American homes in the housing boom that followed World War II.The original substrate was organic felt made from rags, waste paper and wood chips. Fibreglass was seen as a superior reinforcement because it would not absorb moisture, so by the mid-1950s a fibreglass-reinforced asphalt shingle was developed and introduced in the USA. Despite the best efforts of the fibreglass industry to get the shingle industry to adopt the improved reinforcement, which could enable shingles to achieve a Class A fire rating, shingle manufactures opted to instead stay with organic felt – which they just happened to also produce.That finally changed in the 1970s when Owens Corning bought a nationwide producer of asphalt shingles and led the conversion to fibreglass-reinforced shingles. Homeowners embraced their fire rating and longer warranties and fibreglass reinforcement soon became the leading substrate for residential and commercial shingles. Today, shingles covering more than 13 billion ft2 are made annually with a composite of asphalt and fibreglass mat.

Strong blades for harnessing the wind

Wooden windmills are picturesque but modern composite materials enabled wind to become the first commercially viable source of renewable energy. New fabrication facilities for blades continue to be built around the world as designs evolve and blades get longer. The most common blade size today – about 2.5 m in length – uses as much as 6 tonnes of composite material. Wind blades may also be the fastest growing market for composites ever, having gone from an emerging industry 15 years ago to having more than 120 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity today. More than 400 000 people are now employed in the wind industry and that number is expected to be in the millions in the near future.The Global Wind Energy Council expects the market for wind turbines to grow by more than 155 GW, from 94 GW in 2007 to 240 GW of total installed capacity by 2012.

* For this list, 'composite' is defined as a fibre reinforced matrix, typically fibreglass reinforced polymer but not necessarily limited to that combination.