Wednesday 5 December 2012

Long-term Fibres Demand: The Cellulose Gap

Peter Driscoll of PCI Fibres, Mayfield (UK) continued the “Cellulose Gap” arguments started at last year’s Dornbirn conference by confirming his view that despite the spike in cotton price, there has never been a shortage of the fibre and won’t be one in the foreseeable future.  In late 2010 there appeared to be a shortage which caused the spike, and this caused a fall in demand which cost the cotton industry about 10 million tonnes of sales because the predicted 30 million tonne demand fell to an actual 20 million in 2011.  Global cotton pipeline stocks rose from 4 to 14 million tonnes between 2004 and 2011.  It’s share of total fibres is now 30% and is expected to remain at that level through 2020.  Stocks will decline to about 8 million tonnes by 2020.  So, cotton stocks alone are likely to remain well above the annual production of man-made cellulosics for the foreseeable future and will be used before man-made cellulosics to fill any gaps which might arise.

Total fibre production including cotton moved above 78 million tonnes in 2011 and could reach 100 million in 10 years time.  Polyester filament is the key growth area, the  majority

being in China where there is massive overcapacity, and this will lead to reduced operating rates through 2015.  In staple polyester half of the fibre made in China now comes from recycled bottles and they plan to increase their use of bottles for filament from 350,000 tonnes now to 1.75 million tonnes by 2015.

For nonwovens, PP is becoming scarcer and more costly than PET. PET has an opportunity to take share back from PP if spunbond PET can be produced in the right quality for the diaper producers.  Longer term PET spunbond will move strongly into durable nonwovens for textile replacement.  “Opportunities are limited only by the imagination of the nonwoven producers.” Cellulosics are growing in hygiene but as the prices increase, direct pulp usage will take growth that might be expected to go to viscose.

Asked about the future limits to cotton products, Mr Driscoll again opined that there were no real limits other than the normal rules of supply and demand.  Acreage under cotton could be massively increased by using saline-tolerant varieties.  (High soil salinity caused by over-irrigation stopped cotton production in the Aral Sea region of Russia.)  Would subsidisation of cotton cease?  No, the US cotton lobby has immense power, and like the French farmers will not give up their subsidies without a fight.

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