Much has been written and published about the U.S. construction chemicals market, which is estimated to be valued at close to $8 billion and growing at a rate of over 3% per year. The market encompasses a number of different products made with myriad materials. One of the fastest growing sub-segments within the construction chemicals industry is polymeric systems for concrete repair.

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.

Figure 1. Market Segmentation for Polymeric Concrete Repair Systems

Infrastructure Issues

While 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 Solution

Given 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.

Figure 2. Functional End Uses for Polymeric Concrete Repair Systems

Polymeric Performance

This 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.
Aside from purely economic considerations, polymeric concrete repair systems also make notable contributions to a building’s sustainability rating. Because these systems facilitate repair and restoration vs. rebuild, they significantly reduce the amount of building debris that is taken to landfills following demolition. In addition, by allowing for more repairs in existing structures, the amount of required new concrete is reduced. Since a tremendous amount of CO2is generated during the production of cement (i.e., 1.4 tons of CO2for each ton produced), there is a growing focus on reducing the overall need for new concrete by repairing what is already in place. Other positive implications stem from the fact that polymeric repair systems do not use water, unlike many typical cementitious systems.

Sustained Growth

While 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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