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Trends in the industrial sorbent market.

Trends In The Industrial Sorbent Market

a market divided into two major segments, the industrial sorbent field shouldprove to remain an exciting competitive market for nonwovens producer; a host of internal and external factors will influence the future of this particular segment

The industrial sorbent market, while an exciting and growing one, may prove very competitive in the long term. The strength of the market is based on environmental legislation and its competitiveness will increase with the relatively easy access the industry has to melt blowing production equipment.

Configuration Of The Market

Market Structure. The industrial sorbent market has two major segments differentiated by spill locations - on-water and in-plant. The on-water segment is generally associated with emergency response activity and would include the Exxon Valdez spill, the Persian Gulf spill and many others. On-water spills receive the dramatic attention. The in-plant segment is generally associated with routine factory maintenance activity and would include such large accounts as railroads, aircraft maintenance facilities, power plants, automotive assembly plants and many others. The in-plant segment is eight-ten times the size of the on-water segment.

Through the past five years, the industrial sorbent market has grown at an average rate of 25% a year with current estimates of the market size in the U.S. ranging from $50-100 million a year. The current portion of this market captured by synthetic sorbent pad and roll material is approximately $40 million. A very dramatic increase occurred in 1990 over previous years.

Market Access. Customers for the on water segment are companies discharging (or at risk of discharging) into groundwater, ponds, rivers, lakes or other aqua-settings, government agencies and/or clean up contractors. Customers for the in-plant segment will be individual companies. Sales to these companies are conducted through tele-marketing and/or catalogs or through intermediaries - agents, distributors and the like.

Market Drivers. There are several factors driving this market growth. These include legislation, costs and convenience. Environmental legislation governs the entire waste stream in each of its aspects - generation of liquid waste, liquid waste control, clean up procedures, storage, transportation and disposal. In the past 10 years, legislation (resulting from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and its amendment as Superfund Amendment and Reauthorization Act along with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) has made a shift from penalizing companies for environmental abuses to criminalizing the offense. Past and current corporate officers are personally liable for hazardous waste liquid handling decisions.

Because of this legislation, the costs for hazardous waste liquid control in plant and on-water have received more attention. Costs associated with the sorbent purchase decision include: a) application of labor time to liquid control problem at each of its handling points - prevention, containment, deployment, pick-up, disposal; b) reduction of industrial injury; c) improved quality control; d) reclamation of valued liquids and e) elimination of future risk due to improper disposal.

The efficiencies offered by synthetic sorbents (pick-up ratios) have attractive cost advantages especially in the application of labor time (if sorbent X picks up 20 times more liquid than sorbent Y, sorbent X needs to be deployed and removed 2000% less often than sorbent Y, everything else being equal). When a total cost assessment rather than a purchase price comparison is made, synthetic sorbents are at least equal in cost to granular sorbents.

Interest in convenience has also drawn attention to synthetic sorbents. The historical alternative - granular sorbents - while attached to an expensive purchasing price has also been attached to inconvenience. Granular sorbent is difficult to control, it gets tracked around and into machinery and finished parts; it can be underutilized - clean granular sorbent is thrown out with used and granules need to be continuously swept into place; it can also be a hazard - granule sorbents weigh a lot and bags can break open with sorbent spilling all over. Convenience reasons for selecting a synthetic sorbent include application of maximum sorbency power per labor act; versatility in function - can be used above ground, shipped with finished products, can reclaim valued liquids; cosmetics - consistent with quality assurance procedures and enhanced toured sales presentations.

Market Strategies. Strategies for market penetration using nonwoven synthetic fiber sorbents currently follow two major lines of thrust - product focused strategies and distribution focused strategies. Important product features include material strength (material that disintegrates upon saturation in the field is discredited), wicking ability (ensuring full utilization in a lay-flat position with the additional application of labor), adsorption capacity (reducing labor costs associated with sorbency maintenance), reusability (reducing liability in larger spill situations where a limited supply of sorbents is available), cleanliness (eliminating clean up of the materials used to clean up the spill) and others.

Important distribution features include ease of ordering (consistent with the increased popularity of on line computer based ordering), immediate availability (reducing the inventory customers are required to carry), personnel training (increasing the spill-control IQ of the customer), quality review (participating in the customer's quality control objectives), competitive pricing (assuring the customer that s/he is getting the best quality for the best price) and others.

Market Size. The market for polypropylene roll and pad material has been growing at a rate of 2.5 million pounds of material a year. An official estimate of the volume (in pounds) of polypropylene sorbent material sold into the industrial sorbent market within the U.S. during 1991 is 18 million. The retail market for synthetic sorbent material is $2.50-3.00 a pound, suggesting an actual market size of $45 million at minimum. This market does not include the market for socks, which itself may be an additional $15 million. The rate of growth for the use of polypropylene industrial sorbents has been dramatic, though some leveling off in the short term can be expected

Table : (Table 1).




(Rolls and Pads)

Year Pounds

1980 0.8
1982 1.0
1984 2.4
1986 3.5
1988 7.0
1990 14.0

Market Competition. Nonwoven synthetic sorbents are generally sold in plant against granular sorbents and only most recently against other nonwoven synthetic sorbents.

Granules. Granular sorbent products have some inherent limitations. Synthetic granules tend to be non-competitive from a pricing and application control perspective and non-synthetic granules (clay, rice hulls, corn cobs) have some problems with utilization (granules have difficulty transmitting liquids or otherwise achieving full utilization of the material without the further application of labor because of their limited ability to transmit liquid from particle to particle). Also, disposal of clays now requires drumming and then landfill or incineration and then landfill, both costly disposal procedures. Granule manufacturers are emphasizing initial low cost (price/pound of material) and disposal service (including processing of used sorbent granules and returning them clean).

Fibers. Nonwoven synthetic sorbents are competing with each otheras well as causing some downward pricing pressure. There have been several recent changes in the production/distribution capacities in the market place. Converters are vertically integrating toward manufacturing and manufacturers are forming alliances with large dedicated converter/distributors. Also, manufacturers and converters are introducing product differentiating ingredients (super-sorbents, staple fibers, coagulants and so on for product enhancements).

Future Trends

Future issues - both internal and external - for nonwoven synthetic fabric utilization include the following:

Quality (internal). The quality of the product will remain of high concern in securing a market position. Small fibers with low bulk density contribution (high loft) offer structurally important characteristics. Smaller fibers create many smaller internal pores. Small pores increase wicking and retention power. Integrity of the melt blown material through better on-line blowing, needlepunching, ultrasonic welding, sprocket bonding or other means ensures strength, cleanliness and reusability during application. Distinction of the material through impregnation (with neutralizing, solidifying and other agents) or further fiberization (with interstitial filaments, fiber blends and other enhancements) will contribute to product differentiation. As customers are paying higher prices for their industrial sorbents, they are also becoming more demanding regarding the performance of those sorbents. High quality at low cost will guarantee market penetration. "Dumping" excess capacity without regard to quality will not support market penetration.

Service (internal). The service issue will continue to govern market growth - both the service value of the material and the service value of the supplier. Service value of material equates to labor savings (deployment, handling, capacity, disposal), liability reduction (EPA compliance), functional advantages and the like. Service value of the supplier is supported by delivery (just-in-time, emergency response, 24-hour service), information transmission (legislative updates, spill response training, compliance procedures), application training (when-to .../where-to .../what-to../how-to-do-it) and disposal cost containment (disposal volume reduction, supply-and-removal, containerization and the like).

Legislation (external). Legislative pressure will continue to create additional interest in sorbents that offer reusability to minimize waste disposal volume and permit liquid reclamation, capacity of the material to adsorb more liquid per unit to minimize disposal and handling costs and removability of the spilled liquid from the environment totally and completely. The design of legislation in the U.S. will focus on personal responsibility of individual managers with companies as much as the responsibility of corporations.

No other body of laws has received as much support from workers, citizens and/or suppliers as the environmental laws. The False Claims Amendments Act (1986) allows private citizens (subordinates, colleagues, neighbors) to financially share in recoveries from convicted parties who willfully cover up their violation of environmental laws. Potentially responsible parties liable for clean up response costs under CERCLA include corporations, any employee in an ownership and/or control position (past and present), major stockholders (exerting operational control), lessors and sub-lessors, general liability insurance carriers (unless policies contain specific exclusions), lending institutions (exerting operational control), lessors and sub-lessors, general liability insurance carriers (unless policies contain specific exclusions), lending institutions (exerting operational control), real estate agencies/agents (who knowingly sell contaminated property) and any other party who owns, operates and/or controls a facility and knowingly (or unknowingly) endangers the environment and the public through pollution.

Federal, local and state courts are just now in the process of interpreting the environmental laws. These interpretative precedents are not generous to parties responsible for generating waste or causing pollution. Generators of hazardous waste are permanently liable for their waste through disposal or sale. Landfill disposal does not transmit liability to the landfill; liability continues to stay with the generator. Landfills will be harder to access if not totally unavailable to waste generators in the short term; not only are landfills going to be more closely supervised, existing ones are getting full and new ones are becoming more difficult to build. EPA legislation will emphasize more strongly the minimization of waste stream volumes; minimization strategies will include an examination and redesign of the generation processes, a tightening of the treatment, storage and disposal processes and any other strategy that may lead to the permanent elimination of hazardous waste in the environment.

clean up costs will not be avoidable by private companies who generate pollution. If private companies fail to respond immediately and appropriately, the government will respond. Failure to respond to actual or potential pollution incidents could result in significant fines and imprisonment. If the government conducts a clean up operation, the government's costs are assignable to parties responsible for the spill, costs that will include clean up operations, government payroll, testing, trial preparation and temporary housing for evacuees. If a party is responsible for only part of the spill, but her/his part cannot be separated from the whole, s/he may be liable for the cost of cleaning-up the whole spill.

Technology (external). A second source of major interest in synthetic nonwoven sorbents is the nature of the industry itself. The cost-benefit impact of synthetic sorbents will receive greater recognition. The appropriateness of clean sorbents for the modern production environment will be taught more widely. The movement toward nanotechnology, computerization and the electronic transmission of instruction and control requires a cleaner work environment than before, generating interest in material particle counts to support a clean-room effect for the benefit of worker performance and customer confidence, barrier protection to prevent spills from reaching and contaminating surfaces and in-shipment sorbent capacity to reduce WIP-to-delivery delays in finished product.

Demand for nonwoven synthetic sorbents will continue to grow due to justification with traditional sorbent materials and liquid control practices, continued pressure from environmental legislation and the functional superiority of nonwovens with their favorable cost-benefit impact. The cost-benefit impact has not yet been fully integrated into the procedural planning of manufacturers and until this integration occurs, the market will continue to be driven by legislation rather than internal corporate policy. Basic rules of business apply with some continued need short term for consumer education. The winners will be those companies that make the best product the most available with the most support.
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Title Annotation:marketing of industrial sorbents for oil and water spills and leaks
Author:Lutzow, Thomas
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Expanding the use of nonwovens in automotives.
Next Article:Quality control and nonwovens: the supply side.

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