The fastest growing industry sector
for glass fibre is in insulation, as populations become more
concerned with energy conservation. The European Unions
push to improve energy consumption by 20% by 2020 has seen many
governments offer free or subsidised insulation this is welcome
news for glass fibre minerals such as kaolin and borates
Outside of the EU, Russia is aiming
to reduce energy consumption by 40% in 2020 and China has
invested heavily in rebuilding energy poor housing
and has pledged $23bn for energy efficient projects.
In the US, the Obama administration
has launched ambitious energy saving initiatives, including a
$2,000 tax credit for residential homeowners who insulate
properly and make their existing properties more energy
In Australia, the government
pledged in 2009 to install free ceiling insulation in around
2.7m homes under the Energy Efficient Homes Package. However,
the Home Insulation Programme was later shelved in favour of a
new scheme and then abandoned in April 2010. The scheme is
remembered as being controversial, due to workers deaths while
installing the insulation, and costly, due to compensation
However there is no doubt that the
push from governments has driven up demand for glass fibre as
households take advantage of insulation schemes.
The tighter energy efficiency
standards introduced in many countries are helping to drive up
demand for core thermal and acoustic insulation
solutions, Saint-Gobain said in its 2011 annual
The energy efficiency drive has
also led to new sources of energy being developed, which has
offered opportunities for glass fibre applications.
Wind turbine blades, a relatively
new growth area, are made from glass fibre, but increasingly,
also from carbon fibre.
The cost-effectiveness of using
carbon over glass fibre for wind turbine blades increases with
blade size, and in one example of a 57-metre blade, use of
carbon led to a 27% weight reduction alongside a 14% cost
increase compared to glass-fibre-only designs: at 90 metres
length the cost comparisons are predicted to be about the
Other aspects, such as labour and
load on other turbine components, can also contribute to the
cost-effectiveness of carbon fibre usage.
For example, a very labour
intensive stage in blade manufacture is the hand laydown of the
glass fibre and the difficulties of automating this are that
the fabric is limp and difficult to handle.
Ohio-based Owens Corning Corp is
the worlds largest producer of glass fibre. The company
was initially founded as Corning Glass. In 1935 Corning Glass
approached Owens Illiniois with a proposal to join forces and
the new company was founded in 1938. Today it operates in 28
Johns Manville (JM), based in the U.S. and founded in 1858,
holds the second leadership position in the industry.
JM manufacturing facilities are in North America,
Europe and Asia. Founded in 1858, JM has four main business
groups: Engineered Products North America, Engineered Products
Europe/Asia, Insulation Systems and Roofing Systems. Revenue,
on average, is around $2.5bn pa.
Both Owens Corning and JM
experienced bankruptcy because both used asbestos, as well as
glass fibre, as an insulator.
In Europe, and in the US,
Saint-Gobain, of France, is also an important player. The
company operates under its US subsidiary, Certain Teed Corp.,
in the US, and as Isover in other parts of the world. Isover
also manufactures mineral wool. It posted sales of 376.7m
($492.5m*)in 2011, but this is across the Isover group.
Knauf Insulation is active in more
than 35 countries with 30 manufacturing plants. The company,
which is part of the German family-owned Knauf Group, had a
turnover in excess of 1bn ($1.3bn) in 2010.
It is the leading UK supplier of
glass fibre. It was formed in 1946 as Fibreglass Insulation and
has been previously known as Pilkington Insulation and Owens
Corning. This was before the involvement of Knauf, with
In Asia, Jushi Group, based in
China, claims to be the market leader. It feeds the domestic
market as well as exporting to North America, the Middle East,
Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa, it says, with the export
volume accounting for 50% of its total sales volume.
Like most industrial mineral
endmarkets, glass fibre has also seen a slowdown in demand due
to falling construction rates.
The glass industry was among the
sectors which suffered from the beginning of the financial
downturn. Mainly depending on the construction, automotive and
consumer goods markets, it was affected as early as Q4 2008,
all segments included.
In 2009 a report, Glass Fibers,
from The Freedonia Group Inc., Cleveland, US, marked demand by
2013 to expand by 3.3% pa, to 7,200m lb.
The report outlined that the glass
fibre industry will be driven by efforts to lower production
costs and broaden markets.
Best growth prospects are
anticipated for glass wool fibre, with textile glass fibre
demand constrained by maturing markets and competition from
But in its most recent financial
results, Owens Corning said that demand had not been as high as
Our second-quarter financial
performance represents progress over the first quarter, but the
rate of improvement is below our expectations, and we no longer
see 2012 as a year of adjusted EBIT growth, CEO Mike
Thaman said at the beginning of August.
Historically, the long-term
global growth rate for glass reinforcements has been 5% to 7%
per year, growing with industrial production. We believe that
the slower-than-anticipated growth in the market in 2011,
particularly in the second-half, has contributed to Owens
Corning and our competitors holding excess inventory at
year-end. This has placed pressure on pricing, particularly in
Europe and Asia, with overall declines in the low-single
digits, although the impact has been somewhat less than
weve seen in the past, Duncan Palmer, CFO, outlined
in a webcast to investors.
The company revised its earnings
expectations due to weakness in its roofing products.
Based on the current market
outlook for industrial production growth and continued progress
with these actions, the company expects composites financial
performance to improve in the second half of 2012, positioning
the business to return to double-digit margins in 2013,
it said, showing that there is some expectation for growth by
2013 - although this may not be as fast as expected.
JM meanwhile said that it expects
the glass fibre market to continue growing at two times the GDP
In general, we expect the
fibre glass market to continue its growth rate at two times the
gross domestic product, driven by organic growth and material
substitution - largely metal, Enno Henze, vice president
and general manager of Johns Manvilles Engineered
Products Europe/Asia business, told IM.
There is a lot of focus in the transportation sector to seek
lightweight solutions to drive fuel efficiency in cars and
Wind turbine blades are an exciting growth
market for the glass fibre industry.
JM told IM that it
has seen some mineral substitution in the glass fibre
As the glass fibre industry
is under strong price pressure, efforts to optimise the glass
composition are increasing, the company said.
There is an ongoing effort to
use lower-cost sources, keeping the same glass formulations but
using different minerals. This incorporates productivity
considerations to achieve higher throughput; for instance,
through the use of quicklime, the company added.
Borates, a mineral commonly used in
glass markets, have seen prices increase over the last 12
months on the back of tightened supply. Prices for borate
grades quoted in IM have increased by almost a
third in the last 12 months in some cases (see
There are some reports which
suggest that glass fibre also comes with its own health issues,
but this has been refuted by the North American Insulation
Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).
Although both glass fibre and
asbestos are made from silica filaments, NAIMA claims that
asbestos is more dangerous because of its crystalline
structure, which causes it to cleave into smaller, more
dangerous pieces and remain in the body.
Anti-dumping is another issue in
the glass fibre industry as Chinas hold on the industry
threatens to intensify.
India and Turkey have already
imposed anti-dumping measures on glass fibre from China. In
India the provisional measures are at 40.86% and in Turkey
In the EU, antidumping duties of
43.6% came into effect for glass fibre in 2010, for a
The European Glass Fibre Producers
Association (APFE) welcomed the antidumping duties, introduced
in 2011 in the EU. The association stated that since 2004 the
market share held by Chinese producers in Europe has seen a
massive increase and the European industry has suffered from
significant price undercutting, seriously damaging
profitability, the ability to invest and employment in the
In the UK, antidumping duties were
extended to Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan in July 2012, to stop
Chinese- sourced material finding its way to the UK market.
REACH (Regulation on Registration,
Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) is also
an issue as certain borates have been classified as Substances
of Very High Concern (SVHC). So far, this classification only
refers to borate grades mainly used in detergents, however.
The strength of fiberglass has also
been researched, with results that suggest it may be a lot more
durable than previously thought.
In the February 2012 issue of the
Journal of Non-Crystalline Solids, Dr Prabhat K Gupta
and his co-authors describe an improved method for measuring
the strength of e glass and other glass fibre, including those
used in fiber-optic communications.
To measure the ideal strength of e
glass, experiments were undertaken on glass fibre that was 100
micrometers thick - about the same thickness as a human
hair - held at -320 F (-195 C). They bent single fibers
into a U shape and pressed them between two metal
plates until the fibers snapped at the fold.
The fibers withstood a pressure of
almost 1.5m lbs per inch, roughly 1.7 times higher than
previous recorded measurements of 870,000 lbs per square
The weak areas are still in
infrastructure and building materials, where consumption has
slowed down due to reduced public spending (partly driven by
the termination of stimulus packages/measures), JM told
The drive towards energy efficiency
will be the main source of demand for glass fibre as
populations insulate their homes and wind turbines continue to
be manufactured as the world looks to renewable energy.
As construction markets suffer on
the back of a depressed economy, glass fibre still looks strong
because of the push towards greener energy.
* Currency conversion calculated on 18 September
Back to basics
Glass fibre is made up of
bulk, chopped fibres or strands of glass and durable plastic
resin. It is used in reinforcing plastics and composites as
well as other specialised electrical and thermal
Minerals used in the
creation of glass fibre are silica sand, limestone, soda ash,
borates, kaolin, lithium minerals, potash, feldspar, fluorspar,
and sodium sulphate.
Glass fibre is called by
several different names: glass fibre, fibre glass, glass wool,
glass reinforced plastic, GRP, glass fibre reinforced plastic,
The most common glass fibre
is a calcium-alumina borosilicate with an alkali content of
less than 1%. It is commonly known as e type glass, since it
was originally developed for use in electrical insulation
Glass fibres are produced
by running molten glass from a direct melt furnace into a
platinum alloy bushing containing a large number of small
holes, from each of which a glass filament is
Filaments for commercial
use are normally between nine and 15 microns in diameter (see
table). The filaments are layered with an emulsion before being
gathered into fibres.
The fibres are strong and
they have excellent electrical properties. They are also
resistant to most chemicals and moisture wear. They are
non-combustible with a melting point around 1500
The resins most commonly
used in the manufacturing of glass fibre are unsaturated
polyesters dissolved in styrene. The polyesters are produced by
reacting various organic acids (usually phthalic or maleic
anhydrides) with an alcohol such as propylene glycol or
ethylene glycol, East Coast Glass fibre Supplies
Depending on the particular
alcohol or acid used, various types of resin can be produced,
meaning that it is possible to have polyesters tailor-made for
the intended end market.
The solution sets to a hard
substance, a co-polymer of polyester and styrene, by the cross
linking of molecules (polymerisation). This hardening process
is commonly referred to as curing.
occurs spontaneously, thereby limiting the storage life of the
resins, but, for the process to take place quickly and
completely it has to be activated by two additives. One is a
catalyst, which triggers the process and the other is an
accelerator, which - as the name implies - speeds it up,
East Coast Glass fibre Supplies explains.
Internal heat generated
within the resin during curing can reach temperatures of 170 C.
The curing of polyester resins takes place at room
Fiberglass cloth is
differentiated into two separate grades: e glass is a lower
grade, while s glass is used for applications that require
E glass was created in the
1950s to insulate electronics. Today, uses for glass fibre
include mats, thermal insulation, electrical insulation, sound
insulation, reinforcement of various materials, tent poles,
sound absorption, heat- and corrosion-resistant fabrics, and
Glass fibre is used in consumer goods like hot tubs,
bath tubs and boats. It is also used in water storage tanks,
for pipes in the oil and gas industry, as well as in households
and offices, in roofing and cladding.