Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seismic Changes in Cellulosic Fibres - Part 3 (2004)

Prior to 2000 Tencel was produced as a textile fibre, with a few nonwovens producers tolerant of less than optimal fibre presentation doing pioneering process and market development and proving that it really did perform as advertised in the final nonwovens.  Now there is a high-crimp nonwoven version of the fibre, coded HS260 (because it has run on the latest injection cards at 260m/min) which is available in deniers between 1.25 and 3, finished specially for hydroentanglement and dulled with up to 1.2% titania.  Using these fibres, the pioneer converters are now expanding rapidly and anyone who uses viscose in nonwovens is keen to try Tencel.  45% of nonwoven Tencel is currently bonded by hydroentanglement, 35% by needling, 10% by latex and the remainder is short cut to 6mm and sold to wet-laid nonwoven producers and special papermakers.

Lenzing’s success in nonwovens has been with viscose rather than lyocell.  Modal fibre apart, 50% of their 200,000 tonne Austrian viscose output now goes to nonwovens, up from about 15% before the Acordis factory closures mentioned above.  Their 120,000 tpa Indonesian plant is dedicated to the Eastern textile markets, and last year they pulled out of the USA; “Liberty Fibers” being created from their Lowland operation in a management buy-out (see below).   They report strong ongoing business and are investigating expansion in China via their office in Shanghai, but refusing to be drawn on whether this venture would be viscose, modal or lyocell based.  One notable nonwoven success with Lenzing Lyocell has been the development of a new application (for cellulosics) in duvet and quilt fillings.  This sector, initially opened up by Courtaulds Research using pilot-plant fibre, requires a silky-soft heavy denier lyocell which Tencel were not able to make on the production units.

Liberty Fibers

Liberty Fibers slipped into Chapter 11 shortly after Lenzing pulled out, and
another management buy-out, this time to create “Silva Holdings” is expected to attract new sources of funds.  A spokesman was hopeful that the refinanced company would emerge from Chapter 11 very soon.  They continue to produce fibre and supply the nonwovens market, albeit at a reduced rate, ~25,000 tpa, due to difficulties in obtaining wood-pulp.  According to the Greenville Sun, BBA Fiberweb, one of the world’s largest nonwoven producers and an important customer for Liberty Fibers rayon is involved in the refinancing discussions.

Birla Viscose: a new line and a new process dedicated to nonwovens.

Unsurprisingly, Birla Viscose is now more visible in Europe and America than ever before.  That this predominantly textiles-oriented company, with a leading 24% share (~400,000 tonnes/year) of the world’s market for viscose, exhibited at the recent nonwovens shows in Geneva and Miami may come as more of surprise, until you remember that the textile industry has moved East and new Western opportunities for viscose are now nonwoven-related.  Clearly Birla saw the Mobile and Grimsby closures as a big opportunity to break into these markets and began testing and qualifying fibre produced at their Thai Rayon subsidiary with nonwovens producers on both continents.  The Thai Rayon plant produces 80,000 tonnes/annum of fibre, about 15% of this being traditionally sold to nonwoven producers in the Asia Pacific region where they have for many years provided European viscose producers with stiff competition, especially in the Australian market.  

(go to last part)

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