South Korea's government is trying to seed the country's small market for wood-plastic composite applications by using the product in parks and public projects. That is prompting investment from some local plastics firms, according to interviews with industry officials.
The Korean wood-plastic composite market lags behind North America and Europe, but some industry officials estimate it is growing more than 20 percent a year from its small base.
One South Korean firm making investments is LG Hausys Ltd., Korea's biggest maker of PVC windows profiles and a spinoff of Seoul-based conglomerate LG Chemical Ltd. LG Hausys, which employs about 150 making wood composites, only launched the product five years ago.
Byun Yong Geun, general manager of the division, said the wood-composite market has good prospects for growth because it can react faster with new designs than traditional wood products. Wood products are still much cheaper than composites in South Korea, but LG Hausys is working on new product designs and believes it can find some targeted niches, he said. The firm is also looking at the U.S. market but is undecided on how to best approach it, he added.
Composites have opportunities in South Korea also because its government enacted restrictions on chromate-copper-arsenate pressure-treated wood in 2008, citing environmental and health concerns, Byun said in a recent interview at the firm's Seoul headquarters.
Wood-plastic composite equipment maker Cincinnati Extrusion GmbH has sold several lines of equipment in South Korea, including to some new startup firms. The market seems poised for growth, said Daniel Min, managing director of UniTra Korea Inc., the South Korean agent for Cincinnati Extrusion of Vienna.
Min agreed that wood-plastic composites are benefiting from purchasing preferences by the government, which sees them as having long-term performance and cost advantages.
Byun said government projects are a big chance for LG Hausys. For example, the firm's decking is used in the complex of buildings in the South Korean presidential residence, known as the Blue House.
But both Byun and Min said wood composites will be challenged to grow in South Korea's private construction market because of cost and lack of awareness. Byun said LG Hausys plans to focus this year on more marketing in the private sector, including apartment complexes and commercial buildings.
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