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Chinese WPC startup sees opportunities locally

By: Steve Toloken

November 6, 2012

NINGBO, CHINA (Nov. 6, 12:15 p.m. ET) — Hoping to take advantage of China’s growing local market for wood-plastic composite decking and other products, a startup Chinese manufacturer has invested 90 million Chinese yuan ($14.3 million) in a new extrusion factory in Ningbo. 

Ningbo Helong New Material Co. Ltd. opened the factory in May, and plans to focus a majority of its initial capacity of 44 million pounds a year on China’s domestic market because it sees growing familiarity and acceptance of WPC, said General Manager Zieggy Zhang.

“In past years people in China did not know about WPC but in recent years WPC factories have shown their products to people with advertisements and [trade] shows, and more and more people know about WPC,” Zhang said, in an interview at the China Sixth International Forum of WPC, held Nov. 3-4 in Ningbo.

He said about 60 percent of its initial production will be targeted to the domestic market, which puts the company somewhat at odds with the traditional export focus of Chinese WPC manufacturers like Helong, which use polyethylene as their main plastic raw material.

Historically exports have accounted for about 70 percent of the industry’s sales, but the domestic share of the Chinese production has been growing.

The main driver for China’s domestic wood-plastic composites market is government projects like parks and public buildings, rather than individual homeowners or buildings as in North America, which is the world’s largest market for WPC, Zhang said.

Also, a high percentage of Chinese urban residents live in apartments, and those in single-family homes that might be potential customers for decking or other outdoor products are in rural areas and generally don’t have as much money as city dwellers, Zhang said.

Helong is targeting about 50 million yuan ($7.9 million) in sales this year and 120 million yuan ($19 million) in 2013. It has 21 Chinese-made extrusion lines at the Ningbo factory, Zhang said.

The company plans to expand capacity to 110 million pounds a year within two years, and as it expands it wants to have its sales evenly split between domestic and international business, Zhang said. It’s targeting Asia and Europe as its main export markets, he said.

The company’s raw materials are recycled PE, sourced mainly from Central and South America and South Africa, along with either wood flour or rice husk.

Helong held a factory open house Nov. 4 in connection with the Ningbo forum, which was organized by the Wood Plastic Composites Committee of the Beijing-based China Plastic Processing Industry Association.