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Manufacturing Energy Intensity and Opportunity Analysis for Fiber-Reinforced Polymer Composites and Other Lightweight Materials



With their high strength-to-weight ratios, fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are important materials for lightweighting in structural applications; however, manufacturing challenges such as low process throughput and poor quality control can lead to high costs and variable performance, limiting their use in commercial applications. One of the most significant challenges for advanced composite materials is their high manufacturing energy intensity. This study explored the energy intensities of two lightweight FRP composite materials (glass- and carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers), with three lightweight metals (aluminum, magnesium, and titanium) and structural steel (as a reference material) included for comparison. Energy consumption for current typical and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes were estimated for each material, deconstructing manufacturing process energy use by sub-process and manufacturing pathway in order to better understand the most energy intensive steps. Energy saving opportunities were identified and quantified for each production step based on a review of applied R&D technologies currently under development in order to estimate the practical minimum energy intensity. Results demonstrate that while carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) composites have the highest current manufacturing energy intensity of all materials considered, the large differences between current typical and state-of-the-art energy intensity levels (the “current opportunityâ€) and between state-of-the-art and practical minimum energy intensity levels (the “R&D opportunityâ€) suggest that large-scale energy savings are within reach.

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