While concrete admixtures, cementitious grouts and one-component sealants make up the bulk of the products used, polymeric reactive systems are estimated to be $1.1 billion of the overall construction chemicals market. These systems are growing twice as fast as GDP because the construction industry is continually finding greater use for them (see Figure 1). Rather than demolishing and rebuilding commercial, industrial, and civil infrastructure, construction companies are repairing, rehabilitating, and restoring increasing numbers of concrete facilities with polymeric reactive systems.
Infrastructure IssuesWhile the use of polymeric materials to repair or restore concrete is gaining wider acceptance and thus growing in volume, the fact still remains that overall construction spending in the U.S. is still very depressed as a result of the protracted economic recovery. An even bigger issue is the overall lack of available state and local funding to perform the requisite maintenance, repair, and/or replacement. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, infrastructure spending in the U.S. now stands at just 2% of GDP, which is half of what it was in 1960. By comparison, this spending amount is substantially below regions like China (9%) and Europe (5%). The critical problem, unfortunately, is that the bulk of the current U.S. infrastructure was originally built for a 50-year lifecycle-in some cases, it is now approaching 60 years old.
In its latest report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. public works a “D” grade for their current state. It calculated that the U.S. would need to spend upwards of $1.1 trillion over the next five years to restore roads, bridges, dams, levees and other infrastructure to good condition. At the same time, however, maintenance costs have increased far faster than state and local tax revenues.
The situation is further exacerbated by an inability to borrow money due to existing high debt obligations and/or very high borrowing costs as a result of low bond ratings. Last year, the U.S. government proposed a $50 billion infrastructure “bank” (in addition to money already allocated to infrastructure in the earlier stimulus packages) to support the revitalization of 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail and 150 miles of runways. The problem is that these funds are targeted at the state and local levels, where the financial strain to balance budgets is most acute and where borrowing more money is not always feasible. The end result has been delays or project cancellations.
A Potential SolutionGiven all the current economic forecasts, the near future looks cloudy for new commercial and civil construction in the U.S. The one thing that remains favorable, though, is the fact that using polymeric systems has been proven to be a very cost-effective method to repair, restore and rehabilitate concrete structures (vs. more traditional practices that use mechanical and/or cementious materials). Europe has seen a much broader acceptance of these polymeric materials due to a longer history of successful usage in the repair and restoration of concrete. In the U.S., acceptance levels have generally been lower, but they are significantly increasing. The cost-effectiveness and financial pragmatism behind repairing vs. rebuilding is the underlying reason why the use of these types of repair systems is forecasted to grow at 6+% annually in the coming years, despite the projected softness in new construction activity.
Polymeric PerformanceThis construction market, while somewhat finite in scope, is diverse in the products used and involves such formulative chemistries as two-component acrylics, epoxies, and urethanes (and various hybrids thereof). These products are typically used in any of three functional end-applications (see Figure 2):
- Strengthening: Involves restoring structural strength and integrity to concrete beams, slats, walls, columns, piers, etc. Strengthening enhances long-term performance; fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) systems are one of the more noteworthy products used here.
- Structural Repair and Bonding: Involves the bonding of concrete slabs, the repair of concrete cracks, and the overall restoration of concrete that has deteriorated (or spalled) and been compromised due to environmental conditions; typical end-use products include epoxy- or acrylic-based chemical anchoring systems or epoxy-based systems to repair cracks or bond adjacent concrete slabs.
- Stabilization: Involves providing structural stabilization to soil as well as precision alignment of equipment under severe torque and vibration; typical products here would be hydrophilic or hydrophobic polyurethanes to stabilize walls, as well as epoxies to stabilize chock under heavy equipment.
Sustained GrowthWhile smaller in volume and revenue compared to more traditional cementitious repair materials, polymeric systems are gaining increasing recognition for their inherent performance characteristics and the value they bring to repairing, restoring, and rehabilitating the concrete found in any of a long list of civil or commercial structures. This wider acceptance, coupled with cost-effectiveness, is spurring engineers and architects to specify these types of polymeric systems more frequently, which will lead to strong, sustained growth in the foreseeable future.
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