Market developments in wood-plastic composites

Jon Nash of Applied Market Information (AMI) has cited new growth in the European markets for wood-plastic composites (WPC) including an increase in sales from Deceuninck, a new plant being built by UPM Kymmene and an announcement from Rehau of intent to take leadership in the decking market. Mr Nash was speaking at the Wood Plastic Composites conference organised by AMI in October 2008 in Vienna, Austria. Marketing is needed to increase in consumer awareness of the advantages of these products over soft woods. Wood K Plus is the Austrian research centre for WPC. It gives the German market share in decking as 6% for WPC in 2007 compared to tropical wood at 54%. It has been looking for new applications by interviewing lead potential users. One concept is multi-functional children's furniture, with interlocking module (similar to Lego). Silvadec, a leading European producer of WPC decking, estimates that there are 22 deck manufacturers in Europe: 6 in Germany; 5 in Belgium; 4 each in France and the UK; and 1 each in Poland, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. There are US importers too: Timbertech, Trex, Fiberon, Louisiana Pacific, Correct Deck and Lattitudes. In Europe there is a trend to increased use of PVC in WPC, according to Solvin, which gave 2006 figures for Europe as 74% PP, 14% PVC, 8% recyclate and 4% PE (in contrast in the USA, recycled PE was the traditional material used). It has new PVC resin (SOLVIN X60SW) with higher gelation speed, reduced head pressure and no reduction in torque. In North America there are 25 manufacturers, with the top 5 holding 72% of production, according to Washington State University (PE 89%, PP 7%, and PVC 4%). Decking amounts to 70% of all products followed by railings at 15%. The university maintains an information site at WPC Corp. is a market leader in Japan and anticipates 100% growth from 2007 to 2010 (to around 200,000 tonnes). There are Japanese standards for the industry. Products include designer decking, furniture, room partitions and cladding. Deceuninck has worked with standards organisations to get specifications set for WPCs in Europe, including Verband der Deutschen Holzwerkstoffindustrie, Association Terrace Bois, Laboratoire National des Essais, Austrian Standards Institute, and Industrieverband Halbwerkzeuge und Konsumprodukte aus Kunststoff. A European Norm (EN) for WPC is expected in 2011. Beologic has been involved in R&D on WPC compounds since 2000 and currently produces 15,000 tonnes per year. Marc Thometschek, Managing Director, has a vision of 40,000 tonnes. 75% is PVC based. Costs can be cut by coextruding profiles - only the outer layer needs to be coloured with masterbatch. Chemtura is working on coupling agents to improve dispersion and the bond between the wood fibres and a polyolefin matrix, and also to act as a nucleating agent for the resin. This leads to reduced water uptake and improved physical properties. Elkem has silica additives to improve surface quality and reduce water absorption. Biocide Information has examined the potential for mouldicides in WPCs. A new melamine is being tested in WPCs, HIPE®ESIN M(P)ER, from Borealis Agrolinz Melamine. The new material has a much higher crosslinking temperature, enabling it to be extruded on thermoplastic equipment. The resulting material is higher performance than conventional WPCs. Production technology is advancing: Cincinnati Milacron has worked on the key issues such as drying and handling low density wood, working with highly filled and recycled plastics, and venting of moisture. It claims to have achieved around a 50% cost reduction (kg/h) compared to a leading competitor, and that formulation costs can also be cut by up to 20% by optimisation (being able to reduce the amount of additives and use more regrind). The Fiberex equipment combines two steps: compounding and extrusion. Conenor and Maillefer Extrusion have been looking at cutting costs by using a variety of different recyclates including aluminium coated Tetrapak drink cartons and film waste in the core of products. Applications include highway noise barriers. Finishing technology includes sanding, coating, brushing, embossing, decorative foils, coextrusion and direct printing. Woehler has studied this aspect of the marketplace, which is keyl for catching the attention of the buyer. In the US brushing and embossing are common methods. In Europe, Deceuninck and Novotech use brushing while Werzalit and Kovalex use decorative foil. Roex consultancy has also looked at decorative effects: coating is in its infancy, brushing gives good effects but can leave the surface exposed, colouring requires around 4% masterbatch and coextrusion only requires the surface layer to be coloured. As a developing industry WPC needs a forum and this is provided by the regular AMI conference on Wood-Plastic Composites, next scheduled for early 2010. (Press Release)
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