What Is Epoxy Resin Used In?

Epoxy has been widely adapted beyond its original purpose

Wind turbines spin at a windpark
Wind turbine blades often use epoxy resin. Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The term epoxy has been widely adapted for many uses beyond its original use for fiber reinforced polymer composites. Today, epoxy adhesives are sold in local hardware stores, and epoxy resin is used as the binder in countertops or coatings for floors. The myriad uses for epoxy continue to expand, and variants of epoxies are constantly being developed to fit the industries and products they are used in. Here are some things that epoxy resin is used in:

  • General purpose adhesives
  • Binder in cement and mortars
  • Rigid foams
  • Nonskid coatings
  • Solidifying sandy surfaces in oil drilling
  • Industrial coatings
  • Potting and encapsulating media
  • Fiber reinforced plastics

In the realm of fiber reinforced polymers, or plastics, epoxy is used as the resin matrix to efficiently hold the fiber in place. It is compatible with all common reinforcing fibers including fiberglass, carbon fiber, aramid, and basalt.

Common Products for Fiber Reinforced Epoxy

Products commonly manufactured with epoxy, listed by manufacturing process, are:

Filament Winding

  • Pressure vessels
  • Pipes
  • Rocket housings
  • Recreational equipment

Pultrusion

  • Insulator rods
  • Arrow shafts

Compression Molding

  • Aircraft parts
  • Skis and snowboards
  • Skateboards
  • Circuit boards

Prepreg and autoclave

  • Aerospace components
  • Bicycle frames
  • Hockey sticks

Vacuum Infusion

  • Boats
  • Wind turbine blades

The same epoxy resin likely can't be used for each of these processes. Epoxies are fine-tuned for the desired application and manufacturing process. For example, protrusion and compression molding epoxy resins are heat-activated, while an infusion resin might be an ambient cure and have a lower viscosity.

When compared to other traditional thermoset or thermoplastic resins, epoxy resins have distinct advantages, including:

  • Low shrinkage during cure
  • Excellent moisture resistance
  • Excellent chemical resistance
  • Good electrical properties
  • Increased mechanical and fatigue strength
  • Impact resistant
  • No VOCs (volatile organic compounds)
  • Long shelf life

Chemistry

Epoxies are thermosetting polymer resins where the resin molecule contains one or more epoxide groups. The chemistry can be adjusted to perfect the molecular weight or viscosity as required by the end use. There are two primary types of epoxies: glycidyl epoxy and non-glycidyl. Glycidyl epoxy resins can be further defined as either glycidyl-amine, glycidyl ester, or glycidyl ether. Non-glycidyl epoxy resins are either aliphatic or cyclo-aliphatic resins.

One of the most common glycidyl epoxy resins is created using Bisphenol A (BPA) and is synthesized in a reaction with epichlorohydrin. The other frequently used type of epoxy is known as novolac based epoxy resin.

Epoxy resins are cured with the addition of a curing agent, commonly called a hardener. Perhaps the most common type of curing agent is amine based. Unlike in polyester or vinyl ester resins, where the resin is catalyzed with a small (1-3%) addition of a catalyst, epoxy resins usually require the addition of the curing agent at a much higher ratio of resin to hardener, often 1:1 or 2:1. Epoxy resin can be "toughened" with the addition of thermoplastic polymers.

Prepregs

Epoxy resins can be altered and impregnated into the fiber and be in what is called a B-stage. This is how prepregs are created.

With epoxy prepregs, the resin is tacky, but not cured. This allows layers of prepreg materials to be cut, stacked, and placed in a mold. Then, with the addition of heat and pressure, the prepreg can be consolidated and cured. Epoxy prepregs and the epoxy B-stage film must be kept at a low temperature to prevent premature curing, which is why companies using prepregs must invest in refrigeration or freezer units to keep the material cool.