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13th November 2017, Hürth

Growing market for wood and natural fibres

More than 30 compounding companies will produce over 80,000 tons of granulates from wood and natural fibres in Europe in 2017, according to the organisers of the Biocomposites Conference Cologne (BCC) which takes place in Germany in December.

This is in addition to the substantial amount of wood and natural fibres employed in direct extrusion, compression moulding, 3D printing and various thermosetting processes, largely for composites for the construction, furniture, automotive and consumer goods industries. These bring total European biocomposites production in Europe to an annual 400,000 tons.

Antibacterial door handles made of PLA and pine wood by Advanced Compounding, Rudolstadt. © nova-Institute 2017

There are many reasons to fill or reinforce plastics with wood or natural fibres of all kinds, says the nova-Institute. The look and feel of finished products plays a role in differentiation, especially in household, consumer goods and toys. Weight savings, shorter cycle times, scratch resistance and a lower CO2 footprint are what matter when selecting them for technical applications and use in the automotive industry, while in combination with biodegradable plastics, products are also being manufactured for agriculture and horticulture, as well as for special applications such as filter balls and coffee capsules.

Today, in addition to experienced component manufacturers who have been offering a wide variety of biocomposites for years, there are new suppliers on the market who want to use new technologies to produce and market even better granulates.

Beologic granulates from recycled denim fibres. © nova-Institute 2017

Common petrochemical plastics are PP, PE, PVC and TPE/TPS while increasingly, biopolymers such as Bio-PE, PLA, PBS, PBAT or PHA are being used. Depending on the target application, natural fibres used include wood flour, wood cellulose and bast fibres such as hemp, flax, jute or kenaf, as well as bamboo, cork and the fibres of sunflower seed shells. The fibre content for injection moulding granulates is usually between 20-50%, with up to 80% possible.

Industrial breadbaskets made of antibacterial pine wood granulates (Advanced Compounding) by WIS Kunststoffe. © nova-Institute 2017

The table with this article lists the most important European suppliers of wood and natural fibre filled and reinforced plastic granulates, and their production quantities in 2017. Only a few manufacturers are able to produce and sell quantities of 10,000 tons per year or more. The largest producer is the Portuguese company Amorim, with its cork granulates, which are employed in everything from shoe soles to advanced composites. Many producers are still under 1,000 tons per year, although some of them have very substantial growth plans. Over the next few years, additional capacities of more than 50,000 to 300,000 tonnes are scheduled. Quality and prices have improved steadily over the last few years and many granulates have an attractive price-performance ratio.

Granulates from grapevines for coolers by Beologic. © nova-Institute 2017

On the other hand, some new producers have not succeeded in establishing commercial quantities and have withdrawn from the market (Borealis, A. Schulman), while others have reduced their expansion plans significantly (Mondi, PolyOne, UPM).

Overall, it is clear that the number of applications and total production are increasing, but growth rates are lower than expected.

Cork-based granulates for injection moulding by Hexpol. © nova-Institute 2017

The nova-Institute’s estimate of 80,000 tons of granulates produced in Europe in 2017 represents a threefold increase compared to 2012, but it may take a few more years before quantities of several hundred thousand tons are reached.

The Biocomposites Conference Cologne (BCC) take place from December 6-7. International companies attending include Avantium, BASF, Cordenka, Coperion, Covestro, DONG, Ford, nobilia, Renolit, Södra, Solvay, Stora Enso, Tesa, TransFuran, Velux, VW and Werzalit.

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