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Increases in Demand for US Nanocomposites and Plastic Wood Composites

14 May 2004

After considerable research and development, and several pilot programs, nanocomposites are beginning to establish themselves in a number of key end-use markets.

While conductive polymers with nanoscale carbon black fillers have been commercialized for some time, a wider variety of nanocomposites are now finding use in packaging applications and motor vehicle parts such as mirror housings, van step assists and exterior trim. These fairly limited uses are harbingers of widespread commercialization in electronics, construction, packaging, consumer goods and other applications. These and other trends are presented in Nanocomposites, a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland-based industrial market research firm.

The US market for nanocomposites is expected to increase to 345 million pounds by 2008 and approach eleven billion pounds by 2020, with a value of $37 billion. By that time, nanocomposites are expected to have partially supplanted traditional reinforced plastics in construction applications such as pipe and siding; in motor vehicle parts such as exterior body panels, engine components and interior accessories; in consumer goods such as appliances and sporting goods; in packaging materials for food, beverages and medical equipment; in electronic components; and in high performance applications such as spacecraft and military equipment.

The nanoscale materials used in new composites are nearly as diverse as the resins to which they are added and the applications in which they are used. In the short term, most nanomaterials in composites will be smaller scale versions of conventional and well-established materials such as carbon black, silica and clay. Novel materials made possible by advances in nanotechnology equipment and production techniques, such as carbon nanotubes and polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (POSS), will find use in higher end electronics uses and other applications. By the year 2020, clays and minerals are expected to be the major volume materials, with high value nanotubes being the highest value material.

The Freedonia Group also produced a study entitled Composite & Plastic Lumber that examines trends in wood/plastic composites.

This research highlights projected growth in demand for wood-plastic composite and plastic lumber in the US, which is forecast to expand nearly twelve percent per annum through 2008 to $3.1 billion.

Advances will result from increasing market penetration of these alternative building materials, particularly in decking applications, which are expected to total $1.2 billion by 2008. More intensive use of these decking materials will be driven by characteristics such as high durability and low maintenance requirements. Advances for composite decking will also be supported by increasing consumer and contractor acceptance, a widening distribution network, and product improvements that enhance appearance.

Plastic lumber will benefit from growing use in fencing installations, while wood-plastic composites will achieve rising penetration in newer applications, such as fencing, window and door components, and siding. Demand will be aided by end consumers' efforts to reduce maintenance associated with construction materials.

Molding and trim was the largest end use for composite and plastic lumber in 2003, at about 47 percent of the total. Through 2008, demand for composite and plastic lumber in molding and trim applications is projected to expand 7.1 percent per year, almost all of which will be plastic lumber. Gains will be slower than for most composite and plastic lumber applications, a result of the relative maturity of this market, but will nonetheless be well in excess of those for wood molding and trim materials.

Residential building will remain the largest market for composite and plastic lumber over the forecast period. Although prospects for new home construction are expected to moderate through 2008, these materials will achieve growth through increasing market penetration at the expense of alternative materials. Gains in the much smaller nonresidential building market will be enhanced by an expected recovery in construction activity in the office and commercial segments, which will be rebounding from a weak performance since the 2001 recession.

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