University of Minnesota Minnesota Technical Assistance Program
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final report

Pollution Prevention Assistance Tools for the Fiber Reinforced Plastics and Boat Manufacturing Industries

Submitted to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Small Business Assistance Program, December 21, 2001

The fiber reinforced plastics (FRP) industry today is experiencing significant growth as more products are made from reinforced plastic for greater durability, strength, and life. Thousands of products are now manufactured from reinforced plastics including building materials, sporting equipment, appliances, automotive/aircraft parts, boat and canoe hulls, and bodies for recreational vehicles.

Growth in the industry also poses environmental and health concerns especially for shops that are not willing or able to "change with the times" and upgrade to new, more efficient technologies. Environmental and health risks come from the styrene in the resin that is released when the resin has contact with air, resulting in employee exposure and VOC (styrene) releases to the environment.

Employee exposure is now regulated by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) workplace airborne threshold limit value (TLV) of 50 parts per million (ppm) in many states including Minnesota. Releases to air are regulated by the Clean Air Act (CAA) National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) for reinforced plastic composites and boat manufacturing. Neither of these standards can be met cost-effectively without implementing pollution prevention methods and technologies that reduce styrene emissions.

Styrene reduction strategies rely on minimizing resin contact with air and can be achieved in a number of different ways. These methods include maximizing transfer of resin into the mold (operator training and improved resin application techniques), reducing styrene content in resins (low styrene resins), and curing resins in a closed system (closed mold).

This project demonstrated these methods and technologies to FRP shops with an emphasis on open molders, assisted with implementation or adoption by shops, documented results from three shops with five different methods or technologies, and transferred those results to other FRP shops in the industry.

Review of Objective and Scope of Work
The Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Small Business Assistance Program (SBAP), assisted fiberglass shops with implementation of pollution prevention strategies that will help the industry meet or go beyond regulatory thresholds for compliance with OSHA and the CAA. As a result of this outreach and assistance effort, the FRP industry has a greater understanding of pollution prevention opportunities for their shops and the benefits that implementing pollution prevention can have on the environment and their bottom line. Many shops have implemented pollution prevention practices and technologies and are benefiting from reduced styrene emissions, reduced regulatory requirements, and cost savings.

Project Results
Results from this two-year project were achieved through a series of activities including conducting outreach, providing technical assistance (site visits and interns), demonstrating technologies, documenting reductions and cost savings as a result of pollution prevention implemented, and technology transfer of results.

These project activities are illustrated in the pictorial below beginning with outreach and ending with technology transfer of results, and are also discussed in the following section.



Phone Contact






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4 case

MnTAP provided input to SBAP on a letter that went out to 100 FRP shops promoting the project and the opportunity for site visits. SBAP and MnTAP conducted additional promotion throughout the project using the Crosslink newsletter and SOURCE newsletter, respectively.

Phone Contact
Over the two-year project period, approximately 32 phone contacts were made with FRP shops discussing pollution prevention technologies and opportunities, lining up site visits, promoting the loan/grant programs, interns, and Demo Days, and addressing regulatory compliance needs.

Site Visits
Outreach efforts and phone calls resulted in 22 site visits conducted over the two years. Site visits addressed issues ranging from pollution prevention technology opportunities to air permit questions. Potential student intern projects were also identified as a result of site visits.

Student Interns
Site visits provided the opportunity to scope out student intern projects for the summer period. MnTAP supported two student interns during the course of the project:

Sellner Manufacturing, Faribault (2000): Evaluated (but did not implement) non-atomized spray equipment.
Fiberglas Fabricators, Le Center (2001): Evaluated (implementation pending) use of robotics and Laser Touch.

Technology Demonstrations – Demo Days
MnTAP worked with SBAP to plan and hold a very successful event on August 8, 2001, FRP Demo Days, which combined seminars, resource booths, and technology demonstrations. Over 170 people attended the event, including 50% fiberglass fabricators (representing 33 different shops), 22% vendors, 14% consultants, and 14% business assistance programs. Seminar topics ranged from regulatory compliance to current technologies such as VEC closed mold used at Larson-Glastron. Technology demonstrations included Light RTM closed mold and non-atomizing resin application guns.

MnTAP’s primary roles with this event included brochure development, vendor and attendee registration, promoting the event to fiberglass shops and vendors, assistance with program development, and soliciting speakers and participants for demonstrations.

This event helped fulfill one of MnTAP’s strategic goals of technology diffusion which involves actually showing and demonstrating specific technologies to shop people. Hands on demonstrations help prove that the technology can work in a shop setting to improve efficiency, reduce waste, and cut costs.

Description of Technology Applications
MnTAP worked closely with three companies over the two-year period on five technologies that resulted in significant fiberglass process improvements. The benefits included more efficient use of raw materials, reduction of both styrene emissions and cured resin solid waste, and cost savings from less use of raw materials and less waste to dispose of in landfills. The five technologies are discussed briefly below:

Closed Mold—Light Resin Transfer Molding (RTM)
Light RTM is a closed mold process that significantly reduces styrene emissions, improves productivity and quality, and optimizes material use. It is a technique that allows the typical open molder an opportunity to do closed molding with minimal training and expense. Phoenix has demonstrated that a large fraction of current open molded parts can be done by conventional and Light RTM. In fact, Phoenix has converted to 60% closed molding, one-quarter of which is Light RTM. Activities using closed mold have resulted in 80,000 pounds fewer styrene emissions (20,000 pound reduction using Light RTM) over the 2000 and 2001 production years.

Controlled Spray – Laser Touch®
Laser Touch® is a tool that can improve spray technique, increasing the efficiency of material use and reducing waste, assuming a thorough controlled spray training program is in place. Mounted on a spray gun, the Laser Touch® unit has two laser beams that converge into one beam when the gun is properly positioned. Improved accuracy and consistency ensures material placement, maximizing transfer efficiency, and resulting in less waste produced. Fiberglas Fabricators found that they could reduce solid waste from open molding by nearly 28% if the tool was used in conjunction with controlled spray training. This translated to a potential savings of $23,700 in materials and decrease in landfill wastes of 20%.

Raw Material Monitoring
These units are capable of giving the spray operator real time information on materials added to the mold during processing. With the help of the SBAP loan program, Fiberglas Fabricators purchased Technology for Manufacturer (TFM) raw material monitoring equipment. Real time information allowed Fiberglas Fabricators to reduce the average "over weightage" of their parts, which has reduced materials consumed by 20,000 pounds per year. This saves them $10,000 and reduces styrene emissions by 2,000 pounds per year due to less resin consumed.

Non-Atomized Application—Magnum Venus Fluid Impingement Technology (FIT)
FIT is a non-atomized application method that can reduce styrene emissions by 50% or more compared to conventional equipment. The resin or gelcoat exits the gun in two low-pressure streams which cross each other, creating a fan pattern. The application equipment can employ either internal or external mix, and chopped glass can be mixed into the fan pattern as it is applied. Coupled with the use of low styrene resins, Sunrise Fiberglass has reduced emissions by 16,000 pounds per year, down 43 percent from 1999 levels of 36,000.

At Fiberglas Fabricators, FIT was demonstrated to be effective in reducing styrene emissions in gelcoating applications. Reduced overspray led to a significant material savings of 5%, and styrene emissions during gelcoating were reduced by 35% as a result of nonatomized spray.

Low Styrene Resins (LSR)
Low styrene resins contain 38% or less styrene on a weight basis compared to conventional resins. The LSR have a higher viscosity than conventional resins (making roll out more difficult over reinforcing material) and are more sensitive to temperature fluctuations (requiring improved temperature control). The cost of low-styrene resins is comparable to conventional resins. Composite Fabricators Association (CFA) developed emissions factors that show a decrease in styrene content from 42 to 38% will reduce styrene emissions by 16% (just from resin change) when non-atomized equipment is used.

Documented Results
The table below summarizes results from the five technology applications at the three companies.

Summary of Case Study Results


Annual Styrene

Reductions (lbs)

Annual Cost

Savings ($)


Fiberglas Fabricators


17.7 tons scrap









Controlled Spray/Laser Touch® (raw materials)
Laser Touch® (FRP solid waste)

Raw material monitors – less part to part variance, material savings

Resin FIT (permit fee savings)

Gel coat FIT (material savings)

Sunrise Fiberglass



Fluid impingement technology and low styrene resin (cost to comply)








Light RTM closed molding (material savings from over-spray elimination)

Conventional RTM closed molding


108,400 pounds styrene
17.7 tons FRP scrap

$ 119,150

* Phoenix implemented this project on their own, but several Demo Days attendees have contacted Phoenix regarding the Light RTM demo, and received good information.

Technology Transfer of Results
The following case studies were developed and are attached to this report:
Fiber Reinforced Plastic Shop Complies with New Air Permit Regulations
Phoenix Industries Implements Light RTM to Produce Fiber Reinforced Parts
Fiberglas Fabricators uses Loan Program to Upgrade Open Mold Processing Equipment
Controlled Spraying and Laser Touch® in the Fiber Reinforced Plastics Industry

Project results in case study format will be disseminated to the fiberglass shops in January 2002 at the end of the project. A letter will be sent to the shops with case studies enclosed, promoting the technologies, the intern program and available grant and loan programs. Phone follow-up to promote technical assistance and site visits will wrap up the effort.

More efficient manufacturing technologies will naturally result in environmental improvements in any industry sector. Installation of new, more efficient technologies in the fiber reinforced plastics industry significantly reduced styrene emissions and cut costs for most of the shops MnTAP worked with. Cost savings resulted from more efficient use of material, reduced fees associated with pollutants released to the environment, less FRP solid waste going to the landfill, and productivity and quality enhancements to the manufacturing process.

Installation of the five technologies in three fiberglass shops resulted in a reduction of 108,400 pounds of styrene emissions and 17.7 tons of landfill waste, and a cost savings of $119,150. Additional reductions and cost savings can be expected if these technologies are implemented at other sites.

Estimating 100 open mold fiberglass shops in Minnesota, if these technologies were implemented to varying degrees, the potential for additional styrene reductions and cost savings would be great. The Minnesota FRP industry consumes 56 million pounds of raw materials annually. The average resin content in the laminate is 35%, with an average styrene content of 42%. The typical industry scrap rate is 15% of purchased raw materials. An estimated 3.1 million pounds of styrene is emitted from the FRP industry each year.

Potential FRP Industry Implementation of Demonstrated Pollution Prevention Technologies


50% Implementation

100% Implementation



Cost Savings


Cost Savings


Light RTM

Raw Material










Material savings

Controlled Spray

Raw Material









Fee savings
Material savings
Avoided landfill costs

Raw Material Monitor

Raw Material










Lower resin consumption 2% reduction in materials applied

Non Atomized Resin/ Gelcoat

Raw Material









50% reduction; fee savings
Material savings

Low Styrene Resin








Moved from 42% to 38% styrene content in resin


These columns cannot be summed up to get a total reduction or cost savings because technologies are implemented independently.


Production stays at current levels.


Mike Smith, a Master’s student at Minnesota State University, is doing thesis work that will help MnTAP understand how much pollution prevention has penetrated the FRP industry in Minnesota. His focus is on TRI reporters, and he will adjust annual emissions covering the period of 1993 to 2000 with the corrections made in emission factors to show an accurate history of styrene emissions. The hypothesis is that pollution prevention implemented over the last 8 years is resulting in a reduction of "real" styrene emissions from FRP shops due to the many improvements made in the industry.

Information developed from this project will be used to continue to "diffuse" these high potential technologies into fiberglass shops. The first step will be through a letter at the end of this project to disseminate the case studies to FRP shops all over the state. Additional steps could involve loaning out equipment from vendors or MnTAP, conducting tours through shops that have installed the equipment, and using vendors to set up pilots or demos at various shop sites.

This two-year project achieved its objective of promoting and implementing pollution prevention practices and technologies as a means to reduce styrene and comply with the CAA NESHAP. Both OSHA and CAA regulations served as drivers or motivators for companies to consider changing from conventional methods to styrene-reducing technologies. Throughout the project, regular and ongoing outreach kept SBAP and MnTAP exposure high with FRP shops. The FRP Demo Days was successful in bringing shops together at a central location to demonstrate new and available technologies that increase efficiency, reduce waste, and save companies money. The project has gone far to raise awareness of new technologies for companies to implement.

Next steps will involve assisting smaller fiberglass shops who can benefit from implementation of these technologies and reduced costs, better use of raw materials, improved employee health, and reduced impact on the environment.

Appendix A
Assessing Worker Exposure to Styrene in the Reinforced Fiber Plastics Industry From Limited Personal and Area Sampling

During 2000-2001, MnTAP supported an industrial hygiene student from the University of Minnesota to conduct sampling at a fiberglass shop with three goals in mind:
1. Develop a generic protocol for sampling styrene in FRP shops.
2. Apply the protocol to companies implementing pollution prevention for before/after measures.
3. Develop a test model to estimate reduction in employee exposure and emissions reduction as a function of technology change. If a model existed, area sampling for a plant could be performed to demonstrate to the company the potential exposure and emission reductions that could be achieved if they implemented pollution prevention technologies.

On three occasions field sampling was performed at the fiberglass shop. The facility recently installed fluid impingement technology (FIT) and LSR for fiberglass application at its new facility. Direct and passive measurement techniques were employed to obtain short-term exposure levels for a variety of employees working at different operations:
direct reading (flame/photoionization detector)
charcoal tubes (personal sampling pumps)
3M organic vapor monitor (passive personal)

Data collected by the student to date provides the following observations:
Employee exposure: The 8-hour time weighted averages for styrene were all below the federal OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) of 100 ppm and some were below the Minnesota voluntary Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL) of 50 ppm. The findings indicated that an approved respirator program was still required.
Impact of pollution prevention technology: In the old building styrene levels at the laminator were measured at 58 ppm for 8-hour samples. In the new building with installation of fluid impingement technology styrene levels at the laminator were measured at 25 ppm, a reduction of 57% (note: the old building had different ventilation rates).
Operator practices: Operator practices play a huge role in their own styrene exposures. Workers that operated spray guns or hand rolled had greater exposures regardless of work practices. Closer supervision, training and improved best practices would help reduce styrene exposure and emissions. The best pollution prevention technologies do not eliminate the potential for high styrene exposure to some employees, rather operator’s position during molding plays a more significant role in exposure level.

(12/01-FRP Final Report)




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