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sustainable composite wakeboard

A growing interest in sustainability continues to breed innovation in the composites sector, including the sporting goods market. Announced in March 2022, Decathlon’s JIB and Block wakeboards lean into sustainability with Sicomin GreenPoxy 33 resin. Photo Credit: Sicomin Epoxy Systems, Decathlon

The past few years have seen a rise overall in demand for recreational and sporting goods equipment thanks in part to COVID-19-enduced shutdowns and remote work. Composites can be found in sporting goods applications ranging from high-performance bicycles, to skis and surfboards, to golf clubs and tennis rackets and more.

Opportunities in the sporting goods market for composites are expected to continue climbing. According to the most recent “Composites in Global Sporting Goods” market report from market research firm Lucintel (Irving Texas, U.S.) in August 2022, the global market is expected to reach an estimated $1.1 billion by 2027 with a CAGR of 6.3% from 2021 to 2027. Increasing use of lightweight and high-performance materials are reported to be the major drivers for this growth.

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Lucintel reports that golf shafts and clubs, skis and snow boards are the most significant applications of composites in sporting goods today. Emerging industry trends are reported to include the introduction of hybrid materials for superior performance, and a burgeoning interest in recycling. 

 

Evolving market for composite bikes

carbon fiber composite bicycle frame

Reshored bicycle manufacturer We Are One (Kamloops, B.C., Canada) aimed to cut down labor costs by finding more efficient ways to manufacture its carbon fiber composite mountain bike frames. Photo Credit: We Are One

Carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) bicycle frames continue to reign in the world of high-performance cycling. According to CW’s 2022 feature covering the current landscape for CFRP bike frame manufacture, a majority of composite bike frame fabrication occurs in Asia, producingup to 99% of CFRP bike frames globally. Most of these frames are produced via hand layup using carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy prepreg. 

However, many companies in North America and Europe are aiming to become more competitive in the coming years with automated processes and adoption of thermoplastic materials.

In addition, a number of new composites-intensive bicycle and scooter designs have hit the market in recent years. For example, in 2019 Arevo (Milpitas, Calif., U.S.) unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed carbon fiber unibody production bike frame at Eurobike 2019 in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  

Kimoa 3D-printed carbon fiber e-bike in the shade green. Photo Credit: Kimoa

Kimoa 3D-printed carbon fiber e-bike in the shade green. Photo Credit: Kimoa

In 2020, Arevo launched Superstrata, a direct-to-consumer Silicon Valley-based bicycle brand, said to be the world’s first made-to-measure, 3D-printed bicycle with an impact-resistant unibody carbon fiber frame. Following these successes, in May 2021 Arevo debuted Scotsman, a new electric scooter brand whose flagship product is a custom 3D-printed, carbon fiber/thermoplastic composite electric kickscooter. Most recently, the Kimoa E-Bike line, fabricated with Arevo-printed frames, was debuted in early 2022.

Beyond traditional bicycles and scooters, 2022 additions to the market include D-Fly’s (London, U.K.) Dragonfly electric hyperscooter,  which features a carbon fiber composite deck, SNO-GO’s (Sandy, Utah, U.S.) composites-intensive accessible ski bikes and OKMOS SL-01 electric skateboards made with Lanxess (Cologne, Germany) Tepex continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics. 

 

Athletic shoes, protective equipment

Carbitex carbon fiber thermoplastic plates for athletic shoes

Carbitex continues to evolve its line of carbon fiber/thermoplastic plates for a variety of strength, flexibility and performance needs in athletic and work footwear. Photo Credit: Carbitex

In addition to sports equipment, premium athletic gear such as shoes can also incorporate composite materials. For example, launched in 2018, Covestro’s (Leverkusen, Germany; Shanghai, China) Maezio line of reinforced unidirectional (UD) tapes and sheets has been used to design highly tunable running shoes, basketball shoes and more. In addition, over the past several years, Carbitex Inc. (Kennewick, Wash., U.S.) has developed a line of flexible carbon fiber/thermoplastic plates for use as soles in athletic shoes. These plates, designed to flex with the human foot but add strength and stiffness in needed areas, have been launched to the market as soccer cleats, work shoes and more, including a new line of Saucony trail shoes in fall 2022. Also in 2022, luxury supercar manufacturer McLaren Automotive (Woking, U.K.) entered the market with a supercar-inspired line of luxury composite footwear with Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.).

In addition to shoes, composites are being used in efforts to produce stronger, more impact-resistant helmets for athletic activities. Recent developments include a reportedly cost-effective, composite-intensive helmet designed by a team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (Singapore), in collaboration with French specialty materials company Arkema (Colombes, France).

 

Sustainable materials and recycling

Across end markets, the composites industry is experiencing increased interest and demand for more sustainable solutions, from materials and manufacture through to a part’s end of life (EOL). The sporting goods market is no exception.

For example, an increasing number of sporting goods companies have announced product offerings — either at the R&D/prototype level or commercialized — that feature bio-based materials to replace either fossil fuel-based carbon fibers or traditional resins.

Cobra International (Chonburi, Thailand), known in the watersports market since 1978, has launched multiple products to the market using more sustainable bio-based materials, such as its CocoMat coconut fiber technology and bio-based surfboards. In recent years the company has also reported efforts to improve its operations to be more sustainable, such as reduction in water and gasoline usage.

In 2020, resins supplier Sicomin (Châteauneuf les Martigues, France) launched GreenPoxy, a line of bio-based epoxies and gelcoats featuring up to 51% certified bio-based carbon content. These materials are designed for use in various industry applications, but recently have been adopted by several watersports manufacturers. A few examples in 2022 include use of GreenPoxy products in Decathlon’s (Lilles, France) JIB and Block wakeboards, and Notox’s (Basque, France) R-Carbon surfboards, which also feature recycled carbon fiber from aerospace scrap.

Along with R-Carbon surfboards, recycled materials have also found uses in other sporting goods applications, such as a demonstrator soccer kleat from Decathlon made entirely from recycled thermoplastic fibers and resin by sustainable solutions company Demgy (Saint-Aubin-sur-Gaillon, France).

KTM Technologies motorbike brake cover with Bcomp flax fiber cover and Conexus joining technology

KTM Technologies’ brake disc cover aimed to demonstrate both the use of flax fiber fabrics in a semi-structural part and its Conexus thermoplastic-thermoset joining technology, both technologies aimed at a more sustainable part that is more recyclable and built with a lower carbon footprint. Photo Credit: KTM Technologies

Use of natural fibers like flax or hemp is growing across end markets, including sporting goods applications like an award-winning motorbike brake disc cover developed by KTM Technologies (Salzburg, Austria) that demonstrated,  flax fiber fabrics from Bcomp (Fribourg, Switzerland) as one of its key materials.

Furthermore, efforts are being made to increase the inherent recyclability of composite materials used in sporting goods. For example, CompPair Technologies (Renens, Switzerland) has developed what it describes as a “self-healing” prepreg, HealTech, that enables composite structures to be quickly repaired when damaged — and which is said to enable recyclability. In a research project with Decathlon, CompPair demonstrated that an athletic shoe sole made from virgin HealTech glass fiber prepreg could be recycled via CompPair’s process and remanufactured into a new shoe sole (with 87% recycled fiber) that shows almost the same properties as the original. CompPair materials are also being demonstrated for marine applications and in other markets.

 

Beyond sports: Recreational vehicles and more

RV

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sporting goods are a high-profile and growing market for composites, but it’s worth nothing that composites are used in a variety of other consumer products and recreational equipment as well, from swimming pools and spas to outdoor furniture.

One heavy market area for fiberglass composites is recreational vehicles (RV), which often include composite wall panels, roofs and floors to save weight. According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA, Reston, Va. and Elkhart, Ind., U.S.), 2021 was a record year for RV sales in the U.S., with more than 600,000 units shipped. RVIA reports that total RV units shipped in 2022 are forecasted at about 498,800 units shipped by the end of the year, down 16.9% from the previous year due in part to economic factors such as high inflation and high interest rates. In the September 2022 RV market report, RVIA president and CEO Craig Kirby explained that lower shipment numbers in 2022 demonstrate “that RV production is continuing to normalize off of last year’s record production and tracks with our latest forecast for 2022.”

Landscape Photo Credit: KTM Technologies

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