North American Demand For Natural Fibers in Plastic Composites Forecast to Grow Over 50% Annually

Published: 27-Oct-2000

LITTLE FALLS, N.J., Oct. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- Natural fibers, which were traditionally used to fill and reinforce thermosets, are now rapidly becoming one of the fastest-growing additives for thermoplastics. Based on a market study recently completed by Kline & Company titled Opportunities for Natural Fibers in Plastic Composites, 2000, North American demand for both wood and agricultural fiber used as plastic additives is forecast to increase almost 30% per year in automotive applications and 60% annually in selected building products.

Preliminary estimates place the North American market for natural fibers in plastic composites at 400 million lb. The vast majority of this volume is wood fiber, and the remainder is comprised of such agricultural fibers as flax, kenaf, and hemp.

Wood fiber is primarily used in such building products as composite decking, window and door profiles, decorative trim, and railings. According to Carl Eckert, senior vice president at Kline, "Natural fiber use in building products is driven by a combination of performance, cost, and aesthetics. Wood is an inexpensive filler that increases stiffness and improves the processing rate of extruded plastics." Composite decking is typically made from HDPE or LDPE combined with 50 to 70% by weight, 40 to 60 mesh wood fiber, while window and door profiles are primarily loaded at 30 to 40% by weight with 80 to 200 mesh wood fiber in with PVC.

"Additives are also important for natural fiber composites," according to Eckert. Lubricants, compatibilizers/coupling agents, UV inhibitors, and other additives are finding a significant market in natural fiber composites for building products. Additive levels typically range from 2% by weight for polyolefins to 10% by weight for PVC.

In addition to wood fiber, long natural fibers (including flax, kenaf, and hemp) are also finding increasing use, but the applications for these materials are mostly in automotive composites. Typical long fiber composites include such interior components as door trim, package trays, load floors, and seat backs. These composites are primarily compression-molded polypropylene for which the loading of the natural fiber in mat form is 50% by weight.

The primary driving force for these new automotive materials is economics, since natural fibers are currently priced at one-third or less of the cost of fiberglass. Other reasons for their increasing use include:

-- Weight reduction -- these fibers are half the weight of fiberglass

-- Recycling -- natural fiber composites are easier to recycle

-- Green movement -- desire for natural products

In the United States, the applications for natural fiber composites in automobiles are limited to interior parts. However, in Europe, which is significantly ahead of the United States in the use these materials, applications have started to emerge in under-the-hood parts. "There is still extensive room for growth in interior parts," according to Eckert, "and if selected under-the-hood applications also emerge, the outlook for natural fiber composites in automobiles is phenomenal."

Kline's study, Opportunities for Natural Fibers in Plastic Composites, 2000, assesses the current and forecast market for a variety of natural fibers in all types of plastic applications, including building products, automotive, industrial/consumer, and infrastructure/marine applications. The study also profiles leading producers of both fibers and composites.

Established in 1959, Kline & Company, Inc. is an international business consulting firm serving the chemicals and materials industries. The company is considered the leading consultancy on reinforcements and fillers for plastics and composite materials. For more information on this study or Kline & Company, visit our Web site at or contact Carl Eckert at Kline & Company, Inc., 150 Clove Road, Little Falls, NJ 07424, at 973-435-3389, or via e-mail at

SOURCE Kline & Company, Inc.

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