Europe, the UK
Plywood shortage looms in the UK
After many months of limited forward buying, signs are
that UK stocks of tropical hardwood plywood are now
extremely low. With tight supplies and rising prices from
all the main supply regions, concerns are mounting that
significant shortages could emerge as consumption begins
to pick up with rising construction activity in the spring.
Despite concerns of potential shortages and clear signs
that recent price rises are likely to be eased, UK buyers
have been slow to re-enter the forward market.
Various factors are to blame for this including: the
weakness of the UK pound in currency markets; lack of
credit availability; the generally risk-adverse business
culture that has emerged in the wake of the financial
crises; and lingering uncertainty over the prospects for
construction activity during the rest of 2010.
This last factor is particularly aggravated in the run up to
the UK¡¯s parliamentary elections ¨C likely to be held in
early May ¨C the outcome of which will impact on the
timing and depth of reductions in public expenditure.
Many UK plywood importers have been holding out for
lower prices from tropical suppliers but are finding that
shippers are unwilling to compromise, particularly now
that demand is picking up in domestic and regional
markets. Production costs in the producer countries have
also risen over the last 12 months.
Log prices have increased, there are labour shortages
(particularly in China) and the volatile methanol market
has driven up glue prices.
The huge increase in freight rates over the last 6 months is
another factor dampening demand for tropical plywood in
the EU. This is encouraging some of the larger bulk
importers of South East Asian plywood to shift away from
containers in favour of break bulk. Nevertheless, lack of
containers on the Asia-Europe route may well aggravate
supply problems in coming months.
Ecobuild features alternatives to tropical plywood
Mounting problems in flow of tropical hardwood plywood
imports, combined with continuing widespread
misconceptions about the environmental credentials of
tropical hardwoods, are seen as a major opportunity by
alternative materials suppliers. These suppliers were out in
force at the Ecobuild trade show held at Earl¡¯s Court in
Having seen visitor numbers soar from less than 1,000 in
2005 to over 42,000 this year, Ecobuild has now overtaken
Interbuild as the UK¡¯s leading construction industry fair.
This rapid growth in Ecobuild, which showcases green
building systems and materials, provides a very strong
indication of the significance of sustainability issues in the
UK construction sector.
The market position of hardwood plywood products was
under assault from various directions at Ecobuild. A large
crowd gathered at the Accsys Technologies stand, which
owns the Accoya Wood brand, to see the launch of the
world¡¯s first softwood-based panel modified for exterior
The Medite Tricoya panel was produced in Ireland and is
the result of a partnership between Accsys and Coillte
According to Accsys representatives, preliminary tests of
the products suggest they could have a service life of
many decades in exterior applications and could therefore
replace hardwood products in cladding, fascias, soffits,
counter tops, door skins, and exterior furniture.
Meanwhile, UK-based 2K Manufacturing was pushing its
Ecosheet exterior plywood replacement product
manufactured from recycled plastic.
According to 2K, the product is tough, lighter than ply,
impermeable to water, ideal for hoardings and concrete
formworks and at the end of its useful life, 2K will come
and pick it up, turn it into new boards and offer a rebate on
A wide variety of heat and chemically treated plantation
softwoods products were on show specifically targeting
market sectors currently occupied by tropical hardwoods.
Norway-based Kebony had a particularly large presence.
The company, which opened a 25,000 cubic metre plant
last year, is supplying Scots and Southern Yellow Pine and
Maple which is pressure treated with a sugar cane derived
alcohol to increase hardness and durability. This product is
being promoted for the decking and cladding sectors.
On the other hand, some trends at Ecobuild point to new
opportunities for tropical hardwoods. An increasing
number of companies supplying both wood and non-wood
products are emphasising life cycle analysis, carbon
footprint and whole-life costing in their marketing.
The few studies of this nature carried out on tropical
hardwoods suggest that they perform well when subject to
unbiased objective assessment.
For example, tropical hardwood¡¯s natural durability means
long life in use, greatly reducing the need for replacement
and this goes hand-in-hand with lower financial and
environmental costs across the entire life of the building.
In the run-up to the Ecobuild show, TRADA released a
Construction Briefing calculating the carbon footprint of a
range of wood products in the UK market including Iroko
decking, Sitka Spruce preservative treated cladding,
Swedish redwood timber frame and a green Oak timber
The results indicate not only that all the wood products
assessed have a positive carbon balance (they absorb more
CO2 during growth than they release during processing
and delivery), but that the Iroko decking compared well
against the domestic wood products.
TRADA highlight particularly that, due to the relative
energy efficiency of containerised shipping, the carbon
emissions from the transport wood products from Africa
(Cameroon in the example) to the UK market make a
relatively minor contribution to the overall carbon budget.
The TRADA Construction Briefing may be downloaded
End-of-life issues in the UK
The mounting importance of waste management and
recycling in the UK construction sector was reinforced in
presentations by UK joinery manufacturers to the London
Hardwood Club during March.
Ian Purkis of Jeld-Wen UK and Pauline Kelly of EA
Higginson & Co Ltd, told the meeting that joinery
companies are anxious to reduce waste and recycle more
to further improve their products¡¯ environmental profiles.
Wood product suppliers are increasingly required to
express the environmental credentials of their products in
terms of whole-life costing, thereby enabling comparison
with competing products.
They noted that while emphasis has been placed on frontend
issues such as forest certification, carbon footprint and
responsible sourcing, further progress could be achieved
by focusing on improving downstream elements of the life
cycle ¨C for example by developing products that may be
more readily recycled and provision of recycling support
TTF tightens advice on palm core ¡°plywood¡±
The UK Timber Trade Federation (TTF) has tightened up
its advice on palm core plywood by asking members not to
refer to the product as ¡°plywood¡± but as ¡°palm composite
The decision to issue more stringent advice, taken at the
TTF¡¯s recent National Panel Products Division (NPPD)
meeting, follows mounting concern over the product¡¯s
lack of testing for structural use and fears of a potential
failure if used in such applications.
Earlier advice issued by the NPPD advised plywood trade
members to specify if their products contained a coconut
or oil palm core.
The NPPD said ¡°palm composite board¡± should be clearly
marked on all packaging of palm-core products, until such
time the panel can demonstrate they meet the European
Standards for the definition of plywood.
Furthermore, the NPPD said any documentation and
packing should make no reference to the term plywood,
The NPPD also said the products should not be used in
construction (structural or non-structural) until they could
demonstrate testing evidence that they were fit for
purpose. (Source: TTJ)
France commits to increased wood use
Despite the downturn in economic activity, some positive
news is emerging from the French timber market.
According to a recent article by Jean-François Guilbert of
the French Timber organisation (published in the TTJ),
both government and industry have bold plans for
developing France¡¯s production and use of timber.
In May 2009, President Sarkozy announced that the
building industry should increase wood consumption tenfold.
The construction sector already has to use a
minimum of 2 cubic decimetres (dcm³) of wood per m²
built and this has been raised to 20dcm³/m², taking into
account all wood products in a building.
This move partly reflects the positive carbon benefits
associated with increased wood use, and partly a desire to
increase utilisation of France¡¯s large domestic forest
resource. In support of these objectives, the president
announced establishment of a €100 mil. strategic fund to
help increase timber sector competitiveness and boost
French wood production capacity.
Guilbert notes that ¡°despite the uncertain economic
environment, the French wood industry, led by its many
family businesses, is already responding to these
ambitious targets. Companies have been investing in new
capacity, new technology and product development. But
there are still challenges ahead¡±.
Guilbert also reports that for the past six years, timber
construction has been growing at 8% annually in France
and wood¡¯s sustainability credentials and image as a warm
material have helped it gain market share for interior
But he also emphasised that these trends cannot be taken
for granted; there is a continuing need to communicate the
positive attributes of wood products and overcome
misconceptions about the link between timber and
He warns that while tropical wood will still be used,
¡°concerns over illegal logging, boosted by pressure from
environmental NGOs, will lead to growing demand for
And, as they increase their use of wood modification
processes, French and European producers will be able to
meet demand, with local species processed to match the
characteristics of tropical varieties¡±.
He suggests that overcoming misconceptions and other
barriers to market access will ¡°require greater use of
labelling and greater emphasis on environmental
certification right the way through the production process
to distribution, so end users are informed and their
concerns dealt with¡±.
Carrefour International du Bois fully booked
French government commitment to increase wood use is
already boosting interest in this year¡¯s Carrefour
International du Bois, France¡¯s largest timber show. The
show was fully booked three months in advance of the
The exhibition, to be held in Nantes 2-4 June 2010, will
feature about 500 exhibitors in four halls and is expected
to attract 10,000 trade visitors from 60 countries.
Prospective visitors can now register to attend by visiting
Show features include the Timber Techniques and
Solutions Area, which will present timber solutions for
collective and social housing, renovations and where
hardwoods fit in within timber construction systems.
Presentations explaining the progression of timber
construction in France are also taking place. Carrefour will
also host the second Research and Innovation in Timber
gathering and the annual congress of the National Wood
Energy Committee ¨C focusing on Wood Energy in