With nearly 300 participants from 21 countries and 30 exhibitors, the 4th German WPC Congress held in Cologne (13th-14th December 2011) lived up to its reputation as the industry’s leading European event. The European market for Wood Plastic Composites (WPCs) has been growing at an average annual rate of 35% since 2005. Given the current levels of investment in expanding production and growing interest from both trade and consumers, the industry is optimistic about the future and expects continued two-figure growth over the next few years.
In 2010 roughly 220,000 tonnes of WPCs were produced in Europe (some 100,000 t in Germany) and also sold in Europe, of which about 50,000 t were used in the automobile industry and 167,000 t in the area of terrace flooring (WPC decking has a market share of about 15% in Germany), fencing and cladding. More and more WPC materials are being used for furniture and office and home utensils (cutlery, compost bins, toothbrushes, etc.), along with small technical parts and casings. Altogether, however, the 2010 sales volume of these items is likely to remain below 5,000 t.
Further substantial growth is expected in every sector in the coming years. WPCs are predominantly used in applications that emphasise product characteristics such as great rigidity and low shrinkage (compared to pure plastics) and better durability and mouldability (than pure wood products). However, as prices for plastics rise, it could be only a matter of a few years before WPC pellets are cheaper than pure plastic pellets (they are presently 20-30% more expensive) and could then conquer mass markets.
The presentation of the ‘WPC Innovation Prize’, which was sponsored this year by BASF Color Solution Germany GmbH in its third year of existence, was eagerly awaited. Never before had there been so many and such high-quality submissions – a sign of the industry’s growing professionalism and dynamism. The congress’s advisory board drew up a short list of six innovations, which the respective firms presented to participants through a short lecture and other elements in the exhibition hall. The audience then voted for their favourites.
Carlo Schütz from Evonik Industries AG, one of the world’s leading PMMA producer with its ‘Plexiglas’ brand, was the most convincing of all the contestants and was able to win over an audience of experts. In cooperation with Reifenhäuser GmbH & Co. KG, the company developed a pure PMMA-wood composite that could be used to produce directly extruded profiles.