|Natural fiber composites are largely driven by increasing environmental awareness. Due to low cost, low density, acceptable specific properties, ease of separation, enhanced energy recovery, CO2 neutrality, biodegradability and recyclable properties, natural fiber use in composites is gaining greater attention and demand is growing for component materials that are durable, reliable, lightweight, and with good mechanical properties that are significantly better than those of traditional materials. According to Lucintel, in 2010, total global natural fiber composite materials market shipments topped 430.7 mln lbs with a value of US$289.3 mln. The market is expected to grow to US$531.3 mln in 2016 with an 11% CAGR over the next five years.
Natural fiber composites (NFCs) are used in a variety of markets such as automotive, construction, E&E, and more. Europe was the top continent in terms of total NFC consumption; Asia is emerging as a big market for NFCs due to the rapidly increasing demand in China and India. In the future, Lucintel expects higher market fragmentation due to emerging economies. Future markets are anticipated to be highly competitive and companies with innovative capabilities can thrive and gain market share.
Several automobile models, first in Europe and then in North America, featured natural fiber reinforced thermosets and thermoplastics in door panels, package trays, seat backs and trunk liners. The application of natural fiber composites has increased and is gaining preference over glass fiber and carbon fiber due to low-cost and low-weight European-based natural fiber composites molders and supplier of interior parts such as headliners, side and back walls, seat backs, and rear deck trays to GM, Audi, and Volvo, among others. In terms of value shipment, Europe is expected to continue its dominance. North America is expected to be the second-largest region in terms of value shipment by 2016.
Current applications of natural composite fibres include:
• Automotive: Door panels, Seat backs, Headliners, Dash boards, Trunk liners
• Electrical & Electronics: Mobile cases, Laptop cases
• Sporting Goods: Tennis Racket, Bicycle, Frames, Snowboards
• Construction: Door panels, Decking, Railing, Window frames
Increasing use of natural fiber composites in automotive applications is driving the market. Indeed, automotive is expected to remain the largest market through 2016. Several automotive components are now produced using natural composites, which are generally based on polyester or polypropylene resin and fibers such as flax, hemp, kenaf or sisal. Applications for carbon fiber continue to increase. The automotive industry�s adoption of natural fiber composites is led by price, weight reduction and marketing incentives rather than technical demands. The range of products is no longer restricted to interior and non-structural components such as door panels or rear shelves. In terms of value shipment, Europe is expected to continue its dominance with more than 50% of the worldwide market. North America is expected to be the second-largest region and ROW third in terms of value shipment by 2016. Until 2000, aerospace, industrial, and sporting goods applications drove carbon fiber usage. Carbon fiber demand driven by new commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 787, Airbus A380, and A350; weight reductions in automobiles for greater performance and fuel efficiency; growing use of carbon fiber in wind energy, offshore oil and gas development, and emerging applications will power growth during the next five years and beyond. Industries that will see emerging applications with significant growth potential include:
* Wind energy
* Commercial aerospace
* Military and defense
* Oil and gas
Lucintel sees carbon fiber cost and availability as the two greatest industry challenges. Emerging carbon fiber applications, including nuclear centrifuge rotor tubes, consumer electronics, offshore oil and gas applications, wind energy, automotive, high-pressure tanks, fuel cells, medical/biomedical, commercial aerospace, and more. A summary indicates:
• Automotive & Construction were largest segment among all natural fiber composite applications
• Bast fiber such as flax, Kenaf, hemp, etc. were the material of choice for automotive, whereas wood plastic composite was most preferred by building and construction players
• North American natural fiber composites market was the largest for wood plastic division whereas European region was leader in automotive segments-driven by Government support, environmental regulations, and customer acceptance
• Rising prices of petroleum based products, strong government support to eco-friendly products, higher acceptance and positive growth of end use industries, new housing numbers will drive natural fiber composites growth to new horizon
• Performance improvement in materials will drive growth for natural fiber composites in new application areas