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The North American market for wood and natural fibre plastic composites and plastic lumber is expected to reach about 3.3 billion pounds (1.6 million tons) by 2009.
(Published on October-November 2005 – JEC Magazine #20)
According to a soon-to-be-released re p o rt RP-186 Plastic and Wood/ Natural Fibre Composites from Business Communications Company, Inc., the North American market for wood- and natural fibre plastic composites and plastic lumber is currently estimated at 2.3 billion pounds (1 million tons) and, increasing at an AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 9.5%, is expected to reach about 3.6 billion pounds (1.6 million tons) by 2009. The somewhat larger wood-plastic composite (WPC) segment will show outstanding growth of 9.8% on average per annum, simply because it has been wholeheartedly accepted by consumers within the building products area, most notably in decking.
The older, more mature, plastic lumber market will continue its reasonably good growth, also in the building products market, with its leading outlet being fences. Currently estimated at over 920 million pounds (0.4 million tons), this market is expected to reach 1.4 billion pounds (0.6 million tons) by 2009.
The automotive market, mostly interior products, is the major application for natural fibre composites, which will show high growth rates over the next five years. PVC and polyethylenes (mostly HDPE) are the dominant resins used in these markets and the large volume of recycled resins used, again mostly HDPE, is a major driver for these markets, along with the concept of using renewable resources with natural fibre composites.
The replacement of wood with materials which have a longer life cycle is an attractive aesthetic and economic issue within the consumer and industrial sector, respectively, and has been enhanced with the phasing out of a key wood preservative. As a result, more and more companies are entering these markets to take advantage of anticipated very high growth rates. The movement of huge forest products companies into the WPC market has provided significant critical mass to this industry which is in d i rect competition not only with its own traditional wood products but with plastic lumber as well. This competitive scenario is expected to continue through the decade as both segments – WPCs and plastic lumber – aggressively seek to gain an edge in the wood replacement market.
Table 1: north American market for wood- and natural fibre composites and plastic lumber, through 2009 (million pounds)
The term plastic lumber (PL) has evolved as a sort of generic name acting as an umbrella for any product that is used to replace traditional wood products.
However, plastic lumber represents a wide array of products, including a plastic by itself; those that contain reinforcements such as glass fibres and even mineral fille rs, except wood; and mixtures of resins without reinforcements. Some of these variants are also called “composites”. “ Natural fibre- reinforced plastics” refe rs to some of these products that include the use of wood and vegetable fibres. Plastics containing wood as fillers/ reinforcements are ca l led by seve ral names, mostly “ wood- plastic composites” (WPCs). H owever, in the trade press and company literature, these products are often called “plastic lumber”, which has led to some confusion. WPCs also can contain mineral fille rs as well. All of the above, h owever, have become serious wo o d replacements for good reasons.