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The North American market for wood and natural fibre plastic composites and plastic lumber is increasing at a rate of 9.5 per cent and is expected to reach about 3.6 billion pounds by 2009 according to a recent report.
The report, Plastic and Wood/Natural Fibre Composites from the Business Communications Company, Inc. suggests that the larger wood-plastic composite (WPC) segment will show outstanding growth of 9.8 per cent on average per annum, simply because it has been wholeheartedly accepted by consumers within the building products area, most notably in decking.
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 fillers, except wood; and mixtures of resins without reinforcements.
“”Natural fibre-reinforced”” plastics refer to some of these products that include the use of wood and vegetable fibres. Plastics containing wood as fillers/reinforcements are called by several names, mostly “”wood-plastic composites”” (WPCs). However, 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 fillers as well. All of the above, however, have become serious wood replacements for good reasons.
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, this market is expected to reach 1.4 billion pounds 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 direct 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.
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