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January 2004

Wood Plastic Composites are in Demand and Expanding

Exton, PA— The rapid growth in demand for wood-plastic composites (WPC) and the emergence of new processing and formulation technologies is helping to launch the second generation of WPC products, which show great potential for select minerals and long fibers. Consequently, minerals and fibers in natural & wood plastic composites are forecast to grow at 25% per year or more through 2010.

The demand for WPCs exceeded 1.3 billion lb in North America in 2003, representing an average annual growth of more than 25% per year since 1998. Initially these materials were fabricated from recycled plastics and recycled wood fiber, but in recent years, more and more products have started to incorporate specialty minerals and reinforcements in an effort to improve performance.

Building products, specifically decking and railings for both residential and consumer installations, are the major market for WPCs accounting for almost two-thirds of demand. These applications are expected to continue to dominate through 2010, although several emerging building product and non-building product applications will experience exceptional growth. These include shingles, siding, fencing, door and window profiles, outdoor furniture, automotive panels, railroad ties, and marine pilings.

Polyethylene is the primary matrix resin for WPCs, but PVC and polypropylene are expected to gain significant market share over the next eight years. PVC-based wood composite demand is expected to increase by over 400 million lb, while polypropylene composites are forecast to grow by 300 million lb.

Currently only a minor portion of this 1.3 billion lb WPC market is made up by mineral additives or long fiber reinforcements. However, the growth in PVC and polypropylene WPC products, combined with an increase in structural ‘engineered’ materials, hollow or channel extrusion profiles and new WPC products made from injection molding, have created a growing opportunity for minerals and long fibers.

Such minerals as calcium carbonate, talc, and mica are being used in selected products to provide better impact and flexural strength, increase heat distortion capabilities, and decrease creep under load. In addition, selected minerals such as talc and clays, improve the processing of WPC composites by providing lubricity and absorbing the inherent moisture in wood fiber, while antimony oxide, alumina hydrate, and borates are being considered as flame retardants. In addition to the significant use of wood fiber, such long fibers as fiberglass and natural fibers such as flax, kenaf, and hemp are being used to improve structural performance. This is particularly important for automotive panels.

A new market study proposed by Principia Partners will accurately quantify the current and forecast market for minerals and long fibers in WPCs. The WPC market is expected to be one of the most rapidly growing opportunities for minerals and reinforcements in this decade, with preliminary forecast growth in demand at over 25% per year.

An estimated 55 to 60 companies are actively involved in producing WPCs in North America. In addition, more and more merchant compounders are beginning to offer WPC compounds. Compounders provide expertise in extrusion and molding technologies, help in batch runs of specialty products, and provide additional capacity in emergencies or during transitional periods prior to adding capacity. Many of these companies are currently pursuing R&D with minerals and long fibers for selected applications.

The proposed market study will quantify for the first time the current and potential market for minerals and long fibers in WPCs in North America. It will provide subscribers with a clear picture of all potential applications, reasons for use of minerals and long fibers, and identify companies investigating or currently using these materials. It will include estimates of current and forecast demand in each major application, discuss critical performance requirements, and profile the leading producers.


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