Courtaulds and Akzo Nobel are working together in the development of lyocell (solvent spun) cellulosic filament yarn. A market evaluation and test marketing programme has been conducted with Asahi in Japan over the past two years and it is expected that a final investment decision will be taken by Courtaulds and Akzo Nobel by the end of this year.
The two companies have also agreed to undertake a detailed study for construction of a 5000 tonne/year facility to be located in Europe. Akzo Nobel is producing lyocell filament yarn at its pilot plant in Oberburg, Germany, with Courtaulds contributing process and product know-how derived from the manufacture ofTencel, its branded lyocell staple fibre.
In 1990, Courtaulds opened its $100m Tencel facility adjacent to the rayon plant at Mobile, Alabama, US. It is the only location where this revolutionary new fibre is currently being produced in industrial-scale quantities in the world.
Tencel is biodegradable and can be used for many industrial applications, as well as fine yams and fabrics. The advanced material features many environmental benefits, from the raw material which goes into its manufacture to the process that forms it. This process converts wood pulp harvested in managed forests to fibre by a method which recycles almost 100% of the solvent, virtually eliminating the need for effluent discharges.
This year Courtaulds completed a $134m expansion at the plant, one which doubled its capacity and raised employment to 200.
Tencel demand remains strong, particularly in Europe, but with Japan a major market and all production still in the US, the current weakness of the yen against the dollar is a negative factor on margins, according to Gordon Campbell, chief executive of Courtaulds.
In viscose, Campbell said there is some evidence of recovery in demand, butthe new capacity installed by Far Eastern producers has added to global overcapacity. 'Despite the closure of one of the smaller European producers and the prospective closure of another, it is clear that the western hemisphere is likely to remain oversupplied for some time,' he added.
'Viscose is slowly recovering from its low point of last summer, but capacity still exceeds demand and trading remains unsatisfactory. Viscose fibres was the only one of the company's businesses not to see an improvement in trading last year,' said Campbell. 'There is no prospect within an acceptable time frame for a material improvement in the situation. So we have decided upon a reduction of 25 000 tonne/year of capacity at our Grimsby, UK plant.'
The reduction in capacity at Grimsby will enable Courtaulds to concentrate on higher value-added products, and will reduce its total European viscose capacity by 20%.
The announcement of the close of production facilities by Courtaulds was welcomed by Leazing of Austria, a leading European manufacturer of man-made cellulose fibres. 'It marks a long overdue restructuring of the industry, which will improve the balance between supply and demand,' the company said.
Meanwhile, Lenzing said it will increase the prices of its viscose fibres, which it says are still at a low level, by a further 5% in Europe. This follows a 5% rise at the beginning of the year as a result of strengthening demand in European markets.
At its site in Lenzing, Upper Austria, the company produces some 135 000 tonne/year of fibres and claims to be the world's largest fully integrated viscose and modal fibre production facility.
The price of viscose fibres dropped between 1990 and 1996 by more than 30%. Lenzing is taking advantage of the current improvement in the market and is increasing the price of viscose fibres step by step in order to reach a level where costs can be covered.
Lenzing says its difficulties last year and its present situation are the result of the global weakness in the textile markets. However, it says the normally high cyclicality in the cellulose fibre industry and the increase in prices in Europe are giving grounds for optimism in the medium to long term. A number of cost-cutting measures are in place throughout the group, although at the Austrian facility the cost-cutting programme is not expected to take full effect this financial year.