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Glass nonwovens: here, there and everywhere.

glass nonwovens, which are used in insulation, roofing and filtration segments, remain the largest segment of the nonwovens industry

When is a nonwoven not a nonwoven? When it is made from glass. So say a bulk of the nonwovens industry. Glass non-woven materials are known by many different pseudonyms. Glass paper, fiberglass insulation, glass mat and glass filter media all describe different types of materials manufactured with glass fibers and various nonwoven technologies. Taken together - no matter what they are called - they use more than four billion pounds of glass a year, representing a very sizable, but sometimes separated, segment of the nonwovens industry.

Highloft fiberglass insulation, roofing and filtration are the three largest end use applications for glass products, with slightly less than 3.3 billion pounds of glass being used in the largest segment, insulation. Asphalt roofing shingles, with their supporting interior nonwoven glass mat, account for approximately 900 million pounds of glass and filtration uses nearly 50 million pounds in air, liquid and battery separator applications. Smaller uses in construction reinforcement, carpet and other products account for the remaining 25 million pounds.

For the three major applications, two different technologies produce the nonwoven materials. In the insulation segment, more than 90% of the product is made using a rotary or centrifugal process, while the roofing and filtration segments primarily use wet laid nonwoven technology, a more "traditional" nonwoven process.

Because of its enormous size, the glass nonwovens market is constantly being examined by the more traditional nonwovens manufacturers. However, according to one industry source, glass nonwovens companies and their glass fiber suppliers are also examining ways they can get into more traditional synthetic fiber areas. Offering the widest variety of products and materials is one goal; the safety issue, despite its decreasing significance, may be another reason behind these investigations.

Environmental & Safety Concerns

This "safety issue" for glass products involves the inhalation of microfiber glass and its possible effects. In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glass fiber as a "possible carcinogen" following research in which fibers were surgically implanted in animals. Since 1987, the IARC results have been questioned because the danger comes from glass fiber lodged in the body and the only feasible means of entry is through inhalation. To that end, several inhalation studies were commissioned, the latest of which reinforced earlier findings that there is no evidence of significant adverse health effects following the inhalation of glass fiber.

Armed with these results, members of the glass industry have petitioned IARC to reclassify glass as a noncarcinogen, currently an ongoing process. For manufacturers in the industry, however, these safety concerns are still worth watching. "It is still a concern we monitor but there are abundant scientific findings to support its safety," said Jerald Foster, vice president-industrial insulation, Certain-Teed, Valley Forge, PA.

Jeffrey Hire, manager-industry and market analysis for Construction Products, Owens-Corning, Toledo, OH, agreed. "More and more studies have shown fibrous glass to be a completely safe product. It is one of the most heavily tested materials out there," he said.

While the safety of glass products has historically been monitored by the manufacturers, the glass industry has also been quick to quell any fears. These efforts have paid off. "The filtration marketplace as a whole never really panicked on the safety issue," said Gary Heilman, marketing manager-replacement filter products, American Air Filter, Louisville, KY.

While the concern over cancer seems to be quieting, interest has grown in other safety and environmental areas. Because urea formaldehyde and phenolic binders are used in the final stages of glass web construction, there is an ongoing effort to reduce the harmful air and solid waste emissions from the production process and binders and binder systems are expected to be the main environmental concern in the roofing segment for the 90's. "There is more concern now for the environmental impact of the product and its manufacturing process," said Leo Thiessen, senior research engineer, Fiber Process Development Group, Schuller International, Denver, CO. "We are aiming to make the manufacturing process for our insulation products more environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of phenolic resins necessary."

In another environmental area, recycling has become a major part of the insulation industry. While the strict technical requirements of filtration and roofing require pure glass, most of the major insulation manufacturers have been able to incorporate up to 30% recycled glass into their product lines. Using pre-consumer material from plate glass manufacturers and post-consumer glass bottles, the insulation companies can add the clean, crushed material to the furnace to be remelted into molten glass for extrusion into glass fiber.

The major players in the insulation segment continue to be Owens-Corning, CertainTeed and Schuller International. All three companies agree that the industry, while stable, is very competitive. "Overcapacity is having a serious negative effect on the possibilities of our industry," said Mr. Foster of CertainTeed. "Economically, it will all work itself out, but for the moment, the situation is very hard on everyone."

On the positive side, a slight increase in construction of new residences and continued retrofitting of existing homes has helped keep the industry at the $2 billion level. Further increases in demand may occur in the near future as the Model Building Energy Code, with its guidelines for improved insulation levels and energy efficiencies for residential buildings, is adopted by more and more states.

In an effort to gain market share, Owens-Corning recently introduced "Pink Plus," an eight inch highloft insulation material that is fully encapsulated with a coating resin making it easier and less messy for the do-it-yourself retrofitter to install. While some companies have explored synthetics for use as insulation materials in specialty situations, nothing in the near term will unseat fiberglass insulation with its excellent insulating value per dollar.

In the roofing segment, Schuller is a major player; other major North American manufacturers are Elk, Ennis, TX, Owens-Corning, CertainTeed and GAF Building Materials, Wayne, NJ, which recently purchased the roofing business of Georgia-Pacific, Atlanta, GA. Of these, only CertainTeed does not produce any of its own glass nonwoven mat for its roofing products. Of all the glass nonwovens used in roofing, more than 75% goes into residential roofing shingles, with only a small portion used in commercial or industrial products.

As a building materials industry, the roofing segment is inherently a high volume, highly competitive industry much like insulation. Recently however, major hurricane and storm damage throughout the Southwestern U.S. has caused an increase in demand and a replacement drive in the residential sector should fuel growth for the rest of the decade. Most of the manufacturers are running to capacity and Elk is opening a new plant in California to help satisfy demand.

For the future, composite nonwovens or fiber blends offer the opportunity to manufacture improved reinforcing webs. "The industry is advancing by using the ability to engineer fabrics that take advantage of specific raw materials and nonwoven technologies to meet specific customer demands," said Ted Humphrey, business manager-industrial materials, Owens-Corning. Composite technology is currently in the applied research stage and fiber blends are being evaluated in commercial roofing products and may soon appear in the residential arena.

In the glass filtration segment, manufacturers include Schuller Filtration and American Air Filter as well as Lydall, Manchester, CT, Farr, Los Angeles, CA, Ahlstrom Filtration, Mount Holly Springs, PA and Hollingsworth & Vose, East Walpole, MA. Farr, a large player in the filter segment, does not produce any of its own glass nonwoven media but purchases roll goods from Schuller, which supplies filter media to various end product manufacturers. Hollingsworth & Vose is also strictly a roll goods producer, providing glass nonwoven material for filtration as well as building and construction and specialty thermal insulation applications.

While at present there are no indoor air quality regulations, throughout the worldwide industry, a steady increase in the demand for air system glass filters has been reported. "On the international front, we are selling to countries that were not even previously part of our overseas markets," said Roger Hattersley, marketing manager, Schuller Filtration. He listed Taiwan, India and Pakistan as three new geographic markets.

There has also been a noticeable shift in customer requirements. "Customers are moving up the line of available higher efficiency products," said Mr. Heilman of American Air Filter. Where once a customer used a 55% efficient filter, they are now purchasing a 75% efficient product. In addition, customers are looking for more filter for their dollar and are requesting filters that have a greater dust holding capacity for longer life.

In specific company news, Schuller Filtration has recently introduced several new materials for bag and pleated filters, including a new class 1 glass highloft product that produces minimal flame or smoke in a fire situation. Hollingsworth & Vose has also made strides in flame retardant research and is introducing a flame retardant thermal barrier product. A new biocidal glass filter media is also in the research and development stages at Schuller.

Ahlstrom Filtration has introduced "CytoSep," a newly patented filter media for the separation of plasma from whole blood. This represents the company's newest effort in a single layer composite of synthetic and natural fibers. The company's glass nonwoven materials are used in liquid filtration for classification and clarification instruments and as prefiltration material and solid supports for test assays.

American Air Filter, which purchases wet laid glass nonwovens, but produces its own dry spun, continuous filament highloft nonwovens product for its air filtration markets, unveiled "VariCel-V," a filter media in a mini-pleated configuration. The narrow, one inch pleats of the material are packed into v-shaped panels that are in turn set in standardized forms. Many more packs can be fit into the same size filter cartridge, producing a filter with more filter media and thus more dirt holding capacity and longer life.
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Title Annotation:used in insulation, roofing and filtration products
Author:Sullivan, Scott D.
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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