The metals, chemical, and biomaterials industries are also consumers of materials. The processing equipment for metals and chemicals often requires materials resistant to high temperatures and to corrosive environments. New materials with outstanding resistance to heat and corrosion can be critical to the success of a new process technology. In the chemical industry, selectively permeable polymeric membranes are beginning to have an impact in new separation processes based on dialysis and reverse osmosis.
In industries that might be considered primarily consumers of materials, the roles of materials vary widely. The aerospace, automotive, and energy industries are most concerned with structural materials, whereas the electronics and telecommunications industries emphasize development of materials that have an active function. Biomaterials generally serve both structural and functional roles. The more rapidly evolving segments of these industries are active in the development of new materials such as composites.
The aerospace industry and, to a lesser extent, the automotive industry have a major interest in reducing the weight of their structural materials to increase fuel economy and performance. Although approximately half the cost of a modern aircraft lies in its electronic gear, reducing the weight of the airframe can significantly reduce the cost of its operation. There is a similar interest in high-temperature materials for highly efficient aircraft engines that will also decrease fuel consumption. Because of the large economic impact of improvements in these areas, the aerospace industry has become a major developer of advanced materials.
The energy industry has many different segments with different materials needs. On the one hand, coal, petroleum, and natural gas production has only marginal, incremental needs for new materials. On the other hand, the fossil and nuclear power and solar energy segments can benefit greatly from materials with improved performance. New developments such as high-temperature superconductivity may have a profound influence on the production, transmission, and use of electricity.
Because improvements in performance in the electronics and telecommunications industries are closely tied to improved electronic and optical properties of materials, these industries play a dynamic role in developing new materials and processes. The link to materials is especially close because fabrication of a semiconductor device, for example, often involves synthesis of functional materials in situ.
The biomaterials industry is unique in that its products must be compatible with body tissue, and new materials must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. These requirements present special challenges for materials developers.
Some of the generic materials needs of the eight industries are summarized in Table 2.4. These needs, in turn, represent opportunities to improve the economic performance of the industries, as discussed below.