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Market for Specialty Additives in Natural/Wood Polymer Composites

08 March 2002

The market size for specialty additives used in natural and wood fiber polymer composites is 42 million lb, valued at $57 million, in 2001.

Formulation enhancements are required to significantly increase performance and improve throughput and cost economics for these composites, and performance enhancing additives will expand their market acceptance and share. The specific materials and amount of additives required to sufficiently stabilize and improve these natural composites are still under development and evaluation by the industry.

Use of specialty additives for natural fiber-based and wood polymer composites is still in the infancy stage. Colorants find widespread, almost universal, usage across all applications, and consequently represent the single largest category of specialty additives consumed in these composites.

Lubricants ranked second, primarily based on the increasing role for stearate-based chemistry used at many composite decking producers. Coupling agents like maleated polyolefins are gaining acceptance as a key chemistry to impart improved adhesion between polymer and fiber, thus creating greater strength of the composite.

Light stabilizers find relatively limited usage today primarily due to their high price even at very low loading levels. Composite producers find the price too high to justify using the UV protection, and question whether the additive can properly protect color fastness over many years.

Nonetheless, increased use of UV absorbers and hindered amines is expected, as customer expectations for longer lasting color durability will drive future demand. Heat stabilizers and impact modifiers are primarily used by the few PVC-based wood composite producers active in the business today.

All other specialty additives, including antimicrobial agents, chemical foaming agents, and flame retardants will find greater use in the future. A significant amount of R&D activity specifically in antimicrobials and blowing agents is already underway at many wood fiber-based polymer composite producers, primarily for decking and other building products.

The market for additives natural fiber and wood composites will grow from 42 million lb, valued at $57 million in 2001, to over 87 million lb, valued at more than $120 million by 2006. The 16% average annual growth rate over this five-year period exceeds the expected rate of growth for the composite industry overall, due to the greater usage of the materials.

Several major application areas within building products, including decking and window/door lineals, will use more antimicrobials to prevent mildew staining, more chemical foaming agents for lighter weight and thinner walls; coupling agents for superior strength by improving the bond between polymer and fiber; and colorants/UV stabilizers for improved color fastness.

While these additives generally add to the overall formulation cost, the performance improvements are deemed necessary to improve the long-term viability in current and targeted uses.

Chemical foaming agents (CFAs) are largely developmental at this stage. Some composite producers are experimenting with formulations containing these additives to reduce weight, increase yield, and provide greater `wood like' attributes through the cellular structure imparted by CFAs.

""Many of the major plastics additive suppliers are seeking to serve this market segment, and require a greater understanding of the formulation needs and changing technical requirements among composite producers."", according to Lou Rossi, a principal at Principia Partners. ""Composite producers will look to specialty additives to improve product performance and manufacturing efficiencies.""

Specialty plastics additives in composites is one of the most dynamic segments of the plastics industry. Several additive types, including colorants and lubricants, are reasonably well established but other additives have only limited penetration to-date. Opportunities exist for additive suppliers to work with composite producers to utilize more additives in their formulations. The value proposition needs to be based on ease of processing (i.e. cost reduction) or in-service functionality (i.e. performance enhancement).

The current state and changing performance dynamics in the market for specialty additives in polymer composites based on natural and wood fiber is the subject of a new report titled Specialty Additives In Natural/Wood Polymer Composites. The just-released study is the latest detailed analysis of the polymer-wood composites industry by Principia Partners, the Exton, PA-based market research and business consulting firm.