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$900 Million Market for Natural and Wood Fiber Plastic Composites

26 November 2002

Preliminary estimates from a new market study being undertaken by Principia Partners, indicate that demand for natural and wood fiber plastic composites in North America and Western Europe combined, will reach nearly 1.3 billion pounds valued at roughly $900 million.

This represents a growth of almost 20% from 2001 levels, a startling increase in this economic climate. Natural and wood fiber plastic composites are manufactured by combining either wood or such other natural fibers as flax, hemp, or kenaf with polymers including polyethylene, polypropylene, or PVC. In many cases either the polymer or the fiber, or both, can come from recycled materials.

In North America, demand for WPC is expected to reach 875 million pounds in 2002. Building products, specifically decking, account for two-thirds of the market. WPC decking is experiencing tremendous growth in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the United States. Other building products that are just starting to be made from WPC's include railings, fencing, window/door profiles, siding and shingles.

Significant trends affecting WPC in the building products market include:

-The trend toward more leisure time and outdoor activities has created an increased demand for decking and railing product
- WPC decking has become much more price competitive with natural wood
- Increasing use of such additives as lubricants and UV stabilizers have improved both the processing, performance, and appearance of WPC building products

Other markets for WPC in North America are still developmental. Automotive applications, principally for interior panels, ducting, shelving, and spare tire covers are being introduced on selected car models. In these applications WPC is principally replacing traditional fiberglass reinforced plastics. Infrastructure, industrial and consumer application are also in development. Applications include guardrails, bulkheads, railroad ties, pallets, and benches.

In Western Europe, the market for WPC's is decidedly different. There, automotive products account for slightly over half of the 300 million pound demand. German and Austrian automobile manufacturers have been particularly active in utilizing WPC's for such parts as interior door panels and exterior skirting and underbody panels.

In most cases these products are made from such long natural fibers as flax, hemp, jute, or kenaf reinforcing a variety of thermosets and thermoplastics. Even though these raw materials are typically virgin, their fabricated parts are still less expensive than those made from metal or traditional fiberglass reinforced plastics. The specific benefits to automotive manufacturers are as follows:

- Natural fibers are about half the price of fiberglass used in composites
- Natural fibers are typically 30% lighter in weight than fiberglass
- Natural fiber composites are more easily recycled
- Natural fibers are easier to handle in production than fiberglass

Unlike in North America, European use of WPC in building products is still embryonic. However, WPC decking is receiving considerable attention due to the increasing limitations on preservative-treated wood. Window profiles also offer excellent growth potential because of the possible replacement of PVC profiles for environmental reasons.

Other WPC applications in Europe include noise barriers, fencing and cladding.

As a result of this excellent growth, more and more companies are entering the WPC market. In the United States alone, over 25 companies produce WPC building products. Opportunities also exist for companies that supply this market with polymers, fibers, additives and processing equipment.

Principia's new study, Wood Plastic Composites 2003, covers the markets for building products, automotive, infrastructure, and industrial and consumer in both North America and Western Europe. It includes estimates of current and future demand in each of these segments as well as technology developments, channels of distribution, competitive materials and profiles of leading producers.






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