China’s wood plastic composites industry is projected to grow more than 30 percent this year, pushed by both rising domestic demand and the country’s cost-competitiveness internationally, according to Chinese industry leaders. China’s WPC industry, the second-largest in the world behind the United States, is projected to have production of 300,000 metric tons this year, up from about 215,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the Wood Plastic Composite Committee of the China Plastics Processing Industry Association.
The country is likely to continue its focus on exports, with about 75 percent of China’s WPC production currently sent abroad, most of that to North America and Europe, said Ji Jian Ren, secretary general of the WPC committee.
Chinese firms have been hurt by the drop in demand for WPC in the collapse of the U.S. housing market, but China’s costs have helped mitigate the effect, according to Toland Lam, head of China’s WPC committee.
“It hurt us a lot (but) the production keeps going up because the price in China is very competitive, especially in Europe,” said Lam, speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the China Fourth International Forum of Wood Plastic Composites, a conference sponsored by the China WPC committee and held Oct. 19-21 in Nanjing.
“European production is small and demand is high,” said Lam, who is also chairman of WPC maker Meixin Manufacturing Co. Ltd. in Huizhou, Guangdong province. “There is room for us because our price is competitive.”
Others, such as European Union leaders, argue that European firms are disadvantaged by what they say is China’s undervalued currency, which hurts the competitiveness of EU companies.
The European WPC market was about 170,000 metric tons in 2009, with Germany being the largest part with about 70,000 metric tons. The United States remains easily the world’s largest market, at about 800,000 metric tons in 2009, according to figures presented at the conference by the German research organization Nova-Institut GmbH in Huerth, Germany.
While the Chinese figures are estimates, the WPC committee, which represents about 80 percent of Chinese production, believes that WPC manufacturing in the country could be 400,000 metric tons in 2011.
Beyond exports, Lam said China’s domestic market is growing, with much more consumer acceptance than even two years ago.
The general growth of China’s WPC industry has prompted some large new entrants to join.
Werner Liu, general sales manager of American equipment maker Milacron Extrusion Systems, said that large Chinese firms like Anhui Sentai WPC New Material Co. Ltd. in Gangde, Anhui province, and Gem Hi-Tech Co. in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, have entered with investments of more than 50 extrusion lines. That’s forcing upgrades among others in China, he said.
“It is a good trend for [Milacron],” Liu said. “If they want to play bigger or enter the international markets, they need to consider higher-quality machines.”
There are signs that Chinese firms are starting to think about playing a larger role globally.
Two of the largest, Gem and Meixin, announced a joint venture in August that would have had Gem pay 198 million yuan ($29.8 million) for a 55 percent stake in the deal.
That deal fell apart in part in a dispute over how to value Meixin, but Lam, Meixin’s chairman, said the reasons for such a tie-up still make sense. He said he wanted to build a larger company that could better compete with some of the big American WPC makers. Lam said there may be opportunities in the future to restart talks with Gem but said he is skeptical now.
China’s WPC industry does face challenges, including the need to continue research and development, and concerns, particularly in Europe, about using PVC as a raw material, according to other conference speakers and participants.
China’s WPC industry uses significant amounts of PVC, and that means it could have more success exporting to North America than to Europe, as European consumers have more environmental concerns about vinyl, said Asta Eder, a WPC consultant from Austria who spoke at the conference.
“The North Americans have PVC and the Europeans, they don’t want PVC,” she said. “That will be the problem.” She said Chinese firms will need to invest in life cycle analysis of their products and be able to demonstrate environmental benefits for the European market. She said the European markets are less mature than in the United States, and have more room for growth.
Mohini Sain, a WPC expert and director of the Centre for Biocomposites and Biomaterials Processing at the University of Toronto, said the global push for sustainability is an opportunity for WPC and its use of recycled materials, as long as companies can document those benefits. He said North America’s overall WPC industry has shrunk by about 20 percent in the economic crisis, from a market of more than 1 million tons in 2008.
But he said the long-term trends still call for significant growth in the WPC markets in the United States, pushed by sustainability concerns. “The potential for China to export is enormous provided China makes a quality product,” Sain told the more than 150 delegates who attended the conference.
Source: Plastics News, 2010-10-26.