Rayon and Lyocell Fibers
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Published: December 2010
The category of cellulosic fibers includes rayon, lyocell and acetate fibers. Lyocell is a third-generation cellulosic fiber (staple) that has expanded the traditional rayon fibers market. With an increasing awareness of environmental sustainability in the textile industry, the lyocell process, which is environmentally benign, has gained considerable approval and importance for varied end uses.
After a small decline in demand in 2008, growth in the consumption of cellulosic fibers resumed and as of 2009, cellulosics accounted for about 5% of all man-made fibers. Currently, with respect to the world textile market, man-made fibers account for approximately 63% of the market, while cotton, wool, and silk have gained market share to 37%. The entire man-made fiber spinning business has gradually declined in Western Europe, Japan and the United States. In the case of rayon fibers, these regions currently account for a combined 19% of production volumes, versus 53% in 1985. In contrast, Asia (excluding Japan) registers a 75% share, two-thirds of which is accounted for by China.
The following pie chart shows world demand for rayon fibers:
Lyocell (trademark Tencel™) is slowly enlarging its market position as the result of a host of new applications in nonwovens, casual wear, sports and active wear, and home textiles. Although lyocell shows promise, its further penetration of the fiber industry may be hampered by its tight supply and higher price relative to fibers such as polyester, viscose and cotton. Demand for lyocell fibers in 2009 was the same as in 2008.
Cellulosic fiber production surged by more than 16% in 2009 versus 2008, mainly as a result of increased Chinese demand. Huge new capacities provided additional output to the seemingly insatiable growth in China. In 2009, about 98% of the cellulosic fibers produced globally were rayon fibers (staple and filament yarn) and the remaining 2% was cellulose acetate filament yarn.
For the first time, in 2009 China accounted for more than 50% of global demand (and more than 50% of global production) for rayon fibers, following an important increase in the availability of the fibers as new capacities came on stream. Asia accounted for 77% of world demand and its share will continue to rise, as this is the region where the textile industry is booming and where significant new capacity increases will be realized over the forecast period. Global rayon production and demand is forecast to increase by about 3.8% per year over the 2009–2014 period.
Because there are considerable barriers to entry in the cellulosic fiber business, this industry is expected to be dominated by a few international players such as Lenzing (Austria) and Birla (India). Over the years, the cellulose fiber industry has seen massive restructuring, with market leaders strengthening their position and weak players losing ground. Over the last five to ten years, the most remarkable activity has been the rise of the Chinese producers. The structural make-up of this industry varies with country and region, and is largely influenced by the regional and foreign markets it serves.