The Frost & Sullivan study, Strategic Analysis of the Composite Resins Market in Public Transportation, finds that European thermoset plastic composites for public transportation earned revenues of €70.72 million in 2010 and estimates that this will reach €114.94 million in 2017.

Revenues for European thermoplastic composites are projected to grow from €3.46 million to €5.71 million over the same period.

The research covers unsaturated polyester resins, epoxy resins, phenolic resins, polyurethane resins, polyamide resins and polypropylene resins.

"The intensifying need to reduce the weight of vehicles owing to corporate average fuel economy and other Environment Protection Agency requirements will drive the demand for composites use in buses and rolling stock is poised to increase," states Frost & Sullivan research analyst Shree Vidhyaa Karunanidhi. "Besides lightweight mobility, benefits such as low maintenance costs and improved corrosion resistance while showing no compromise on performance, at least at the non-structural level, will help boost the deployment of composites."

However, the report warns that new regulations on fire safety, smoke and toxicity (FST) are exerting heavy pressure on the composite industry. Fire-resistant additives help in overcoming this problem to some extent, although not entirely.

Composites in public transportation

Frost & Sullivan reports that the attributes of light weight and performance are pushing the use of composites in public transportation. Safety issues and rising gasoline prices mean public transportation, including buses, trains and trams, is being used extensively. This is having a positive effect on the uptake of composites.

The general economic revival is set to be accompanied by the growth of the composite industry, Frost & Sullivan predicts. Composites offer a weight reduction of around 30-40% compared to materials such as steel. As a result, steel is rapidly being substituted by composites.

However, competition from alternative materials poses a threat to market expansion. Due to the lack of awareness about their benefits, composites face competition from conventional materials such as steel and aluminium. Moreover, OEMs are more familiar with steel and aluminium and their performance, rather than with composites.

Frost & Sullivan advises that companies have to communicate to OEMs the benefits of composites such as low weight, reduced manufacturing time and lower maintenance costs. And they need to invest in R&D to ensure that composites are more easily separable and recyclable.

"The European standard for FST, namely EN45545, is used for the protection of railway vehicles against fire while the British standard BS 6853 is considered to be one of the most stringent standards," concludes Karunanidhi. "Further investments in R&D are required to ensure that the materials comply with these regulations."