The company has already announced plans to expand total Tencel capacity at its Grimsby, UK, and Mobile, US, sites to 75 000 tonne/year by 1997.
Lenzing has obtained a 'large order' to modernise a viscose fibre plant in India. Plans are also afoot to expand the capacity of South Pacific Viscose, Lenzing's Indonesian subsidiary in Purwakarta, Java, from 75 000 tonne/year of viscose to 110 000 tonne/year by 1997. Lenzing's investment manager Mick Stempel described the project as a 'cash cow'.
Lenzing and Courtaulds are racing to develop their lyocell cellulosic staple fibres to cater for the East Asian market, particularly Japan, because of the fabric's similarity to silk. Lenzing's lyocell and Courtaulds' Tencel, which are fast becoming bitter rivals in a high value marketplace, see the Asian sector as a key to the fibres' success.
Lenzing and Courtaulds, which compete strongly in the viscose fibres markets, have developed their new cellulosics from technology originally licensed from Akzo Nobel of the Netherlands, using a solvent spun process.
Wood pulp is dissolved in N-methyl-morphiholin-N-oxide, then extruded into a spinning bath of solvent, producing filament. The lyocell process takes three hours instead of the forty hours for viscose. Since it is closed loop it recovers virtually all the solvent and avoids the sulphur effluent of the viscose process.
Lyocell fibres could transform the market in Asia. The ratio between dry and wet tenacity of the new fibres is similar to cotton, but with a very low shrinkage rate, and there is a high flexibility in dyeing and finishing.
Other characteristics include deep/fast dyeing and controlled fibrillation, said Lenzing chairman Dr Stepniczka.
Lenzing is producing 470 tonne/year of lyocell at its pilot plant in Austria, where it is developing products with its key customers. By mid-1997 the first 10 000 tonne phase of a planned 20 000 tonne/year capacity plant should start production in Austria. Lenzing sees the market as 50% in Europe and 30% in Japan, with the other 20% in the US and the rest of Asia (particularly South Korea).
Lenzing's partner in Japan is Osaka-based Moririn which is already working on familiarising the Japanese market with the new cellulosic. Stepniczka sees lyocell production in the foreseeable future restricted to Austria, although he does not rule out manufacture in Asia in the future.
This could happen sooner rather than later as a big Asian investor is looking to buy the Bank of Austria's 33% stake in Lenzing. The rumours are a consortium involving Mitsubishi and Samsung of Japan, and Formosa of Taiwan are in the running.