From Tom Burrow Lenzing - 25/7/12)
The new Tencel plant in Austria is now under construction. When it starts up (in 2014) it will operate using bought in pulp rather than pulp from the Lenzing on-site pulp mill although this is a long term target. The capacity of the plant will be 67,000 tons pa making it the largest Tencel plant yet built.
Capacities are also being increased at the other Tencel plants. In 2014, the capacity of Mobile will be 60,000 tons, Heiligenkreuz 65,000 tons and Grimsby will be 40,000 tons giving a total capacity of 222,000 tons pa - a very rapid expansion of production. This year production of Tencel has overtaken the production of Modal for the first time...
This expansion is not limited to Tencel. A new viscose plant is being built in India with a capacity of 80,000 tons pa. The South Pacific Viscose plant in Indonesia is getting a 5th line with a capacity of 80,000 tons pa giving a total capacity of 325,000 tons. A second line is being built in China at the Nanjing plant giving a total capacity of 170,000 tons. Overall Lenzing is on target to reach total production capacity of 1.2 milliion tons in 2014.
I have recently realised that there has been a step change in the perception of cellulosic fibres which has happened at least in part as a result of what we have done with Tencel. Before Tencel was introduced to the market, viscose was seen as an inferior product produced by a polluting process. Tencel entered the market with excellent environmental credentials. This environmental story has been presented to the market and consumers in such a way that it has been accepted that cellulosic fibres are highly sustainable and are no longer tainted by the bad reputation of the past. In the consumers' mind this applies to viscose as well as Tencel. It is now seen as a natural fibre rather than a chemical fibre. This change in perception together with the macro-trends of increasing per capita consumption of fibres, pressure on agricultural land and concerns about the use of fossil sources for raw materials are driving the increase in the fortunes of manmade cellulosic fibres.
The marketing of Tencel in apparel continues as before. It is sold as a premium fibre for use in the higher end of the market. However, the price premium which is charged is much less than it used to be. There have been times when the prices of Tencel, Modal and viscose have been about the same.
A number of new applications for Tencel are now being developed. We have had major successes in active sportswear and in bed linen. A major wipes program with Costco has been very successful. Tencel is now used in car seats - it is in the Citroen C4. New materials based on Tencel are being produced for technical applications. Ground Tencel fibre is used as an additive in poyurethane foam to increase the moisture handling capacity of mattresses, finely divided precipitated Tencel dope is used in cosmetics and has potential for use as a thickener in foods. Short cut Tencel fibre is being explored for use in plastics reinforcement.
So far, Lenzing has been the major player in lyocell.
- Birla have launched a product - Excel. Their production is low at present, but there is talk of them building a significant plant in Turkey.
- Acelon in Taiwan have a small facility producing a filament lyocell - c. 1000 TPA I believe.
- It would surprise no-one if we learned that a Chinese plant was being built - although I have not so far.
- A German spin-off company from the TITK research institute - Smartfiber AG - operated a pilot plant on a semi-commercial basis making speciality lyocell products for a few years. They have now sold their plant to Lenzing although they are still involved in marketing their products.
- The original lyocell patents (Eastman, Akzo Nobel) have expired long ago.
- There were a number of important patents which Courtaulds and Lenzing had covering specific production techniques and processes. We are now at the point where these are expiring as well. Lenzing cannot rely on patents alone to keep the competition out of the market.
Lenzing have decided that the best way to prevent Far Eastern countries from copying our technology is to keep it away from them. So new plants will not be built in India or China in the forseeable future. The Lenzing site in Austria is seen as the centre for production of Speciality fibers such as Tencel, Modal and Lenzing FR. Clearly the existing Tencel plants in UK, US and Austria will contiue to operate.
Lenzing, like Courtaulds has not invested in direct marketing of Tencel to the consumer. We work with the supply chain to try to get as many garments and other items labelled as Tencel as we can. The main vehicle for this is a labelling programme where a garment manufacturer who purchases a registered Tencel fabric can apply for free Tencel labels for all the garments he is making. This gets the name on the product and spreads the word. We are also active with the press and take any opportunity to get the name in print in both trade and consumer publicatons.
In 2014 the projected capacity of the Lenzing site will be 295,000 Tons including the new Tencel plant. So the viscose and Modal production combined will be aout 230,000 Tons. Loines are being converted to increase Modal production but this is at the expense of viscose so overall the capacity is not being increased significantly as far as I know.
The 1.2 MT projected for 2015 will be something like Tencel 280 kT, Modal 140 kT and viscose 765 kT.