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While the global market for wood-plastic composites is expected to register further growth, a marketing effort is needed to increase consumer awareness of their advantages over soft woods.
(Published on January-February 2009 – JEC Magazine #46)
DR SALLY HUMPHREYS, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, APPLIED MARKET INFORMATION LTD
At the Wood Plastic Composites conference organised by AMI in October 2008 in Vienna, Austria, Jon Nash of Applied Market Information (AMI) announced new growth in the European markets for wood-plastic composites (WPC). The growth includes an increase in sales from Deceuninck, a new plant under construction by UPM Kymmene, and an announcement from Rehau of intent to take leadership in the decking market.
According to Wood K Plus, the Austrian research centre for WPC, the German market share in decking was 6% for WPC in 2007, compared to tropical wood at 54%. Wood K Plus has been interviewing lead potential users to find new applications. One concept is multifunctional children’s furniture, with interlocking modules similar to Lego.
A growing market
Silvadec, a leading European producer of WPC decking, estimates that there are 22 deck manufacturers in Europe. Six of these are in Germany, five in Belgium, four each in France and the UK, and one each in Poland, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. There are US importers too: Timbertech, Trex, Fiberon, Louisiana Pacific, Correct Deck and Lattitudes.
According to PVC manufacturer SolVin, there is a European trend towards increased use of PVC in wood-plastic composites. The company provided the following 2006 figures for Europe: PP, 74%; PVC, 14%; recyclate, 8%; and PE, 4% (by contrast, recycled PE was the traditional material used in the United States). SolVin has put out a new PVC resin (SolVin® X60SW) with higher gelation speed, reduced head pressure and no reduction in torque.
In North America, there are 25 WPC manufacturers and the top five account for 72% of production, according to Washington State University (resin breakdown: PE 89%, PP 7%, and PVC 4%). Decking accounts for 70% of all products, followed by railings at 15%.
WPC Corp. is a market leader in Japan that is anticipating 100% growth to around 200,000 metric tons (MT) for the period 2007 to 2010. There are Japanese standards for the industry. Products include designer decking, furniture, room partitions and cladding.
(commonly abbreviated as WPC) is a recyclable composite material lumber or timber made of recycled plastic and wood wastes. There are also application in the market, which utilize only virgin raw materials. Its most widespread use is in outdoor deck floors, but it is also used for railings, fences, landscaping timbers, cladding and siding, park benches, molding and trim, window and door frames, and indoor furniture. Manufacturers claim that wood-plastic composite is more environmentally friendly and requires less maintenance than the alternatives of solid wood treated with preservatives or solid wood of rot-resistant species. Resistant to cracking and splitting, these materials can be moulded with or without simulated wood grain details. Even with the wood grain design these materials are still visually easy to distinguish from natural timber as the grains are the same uniform color as the rest of the material.
European norm expected
Deceuninck has worked with standards organisations like Verband der Deutschen Holzwerkstoffindustrie, Association Terrasse Bois, Laboratoire National des Essais, Austrian Standards Institute, and Industrieverband Halbwerkzeuge und Konsumprodukte aus Kunststoff, to get specifications set for WPCs in Europe. A European Norm (EN) for WPCs is expected in 2011.
Beologic has been involved in R&D on WPC compounds since 2000, and currently produces 15,000 MT per year, 75% of which is PVC based. Marc Thometschek, managing director, has his sights set on 40,000 MT. 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.
Borealis Agrolinz Melamine has a new melamine, HIPE®ESIN M(P)ER, which is being tested in WPCs. The new material has a much higher crosslinking temperature, enabling it to be extruded on thermoplastic equipment. The resulting material is higher in performance than conventional WPCs.
Production technology is advancing: Cincinnati Milacron has worked on key issues such as drying and handling lowdensity 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 also that formulation costs can be cut by up to 20% by optimization (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 key in 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.