As Global Shift Away From Asbestos Continues, Fiber Cement Producers Increasingly Turn to Alternative Materials

Once a mainstay of the global fiber cement market – which totaled 28.1 million metric tons in 2018 – asbestos use is on the decline worldwide, even in developing countries such as India and Russia, where the low-cost but highly carcinogenic material is still mined and used in building products. The Freedonia Group’s new Global Fiber Cement study analyzes the impact of shifting raw material use and other important trends on global fiber cement markets:

  • The basic raw materials used to manufacture fiber cement are cement, sand, fiber, and additives, though precise formulations vary and are tightly guarded by manufacturers.
  • Compared to fiber (e.g., asbestos, cellulose), cement and sand are used more intensively in fiber cement production, together accounting for 88% of fiber cement raw material demand in 2018.
  • However, more than 50 countries – including the EU and Brazil (previously one of the world’s top producers of asbestos) – have fully banned asbestos, while China enacted a limited ban in 2011. In key markets such as the US, where some building products containing asbestos are still permitted, total-ban campaigns are underway.
  • This has forced fiber cement producers to increase use of cellulose fiber as a comparably low-cost and widely available asbestos alternative with similar performance in most applications.

Hence, asbestos demand for fiber cement production is expected to continue to decline through 2023, while demand for cellulose fiber is forecast to grow at an above average rate compared to other raw materials.

Furthermore, fiber cement producers are increasing use of high-value proprietary additives to improve product performance and give them a competitive edge. Use of additives – such as to improve colorfastness and durability – is especially important in developed markets, where fiber cement is becoming a higher value alternative to traditional siding materials such as vinyl. As such, additives are expected to see robust growth in fiber cement production (albeit from a small base) through 2023.

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The Freedonia Group’s Global Fiber Cement study analyzes the global fiber cement market, presenting historical demand (2008, 2013, 2018) and forecasts (2023 and 2028) by market (new residential, residential renovation, new nonresidential, nonresidential renovation) and application (roofing, siding, backerboard, moulding and trim, and other applications). This study also breaks out company market share and includes competitive analysis on industry participants such as James Hardie, Etex, Nichiha, KMEW, and more.