At the start of the year, the price of fluff pulp is approaching $2,000 per air-dried ton, nearly two to four times its historical average. Demand has been driven by the recovery of the post-Covid global economy and bolstered by the call for more durable materials in hygiene applications (diapers/diapers, toddler training pants, adult incontinence and feminine hygiene products) and nonwovens, in particular wipes.
Smithers’ dedicated analysis of this segment examines the outlook for this critical year and the longer-term outlook to 2027 – with specific analysis of current and future demand, capacity and fluff plant investment. and competing technologies.
Despite several mill expansions in South America over the past five years, in 2022 global fluff pulp supply remains limited even as demand continues to grow. Alternate production – mills switching from producing dissolving pulp or paper pulp to making fluff pulp – will be essential in the short to medium term to meet customer demands. The volume of pendulum production now and through 2027 is analyzed in depth by Smithers, alongside announced and unannounced plant expansions for the forecast period.
Global global fluff pulp consumption will increase to 8.13 million air-dried tons in 2027; equivalent to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.4% for 2022-2027. The market will not be able to sustain the record prices seen in the first half of 2022, but will remain dynamic. Smithers predicts the global value will reach $8.63 billion in 2027 as prices and supply adjust to historical norms.
North America is the main producer of fluff pulp. In 2022, it is the only region in the world that is a net exporter, although it is expected that it will soon be joined by South America. New demand through 2022-2027 will come mainly from Asia, consuming 2.9 million air-dried tonnes worth $3 billion in 2022; it is also set to develop its first national fluff pulp production industry during the year.
Adding absorbency to disposable hygiene products remains the primary use for fluff pulp. Therefore, the use of fluff pulp will follow the demand for hygiene articles and other non-woven products in the post-Covid economy. In North America and Western Europe, these consumer segments are relatively mature and face distinct challenges that will change fluff pulp consumption habits. Hygiene products will account for nearly 90% of global volumes in 2022, but design changes will mean growth will be essentially flat through 2027. These include increased sales of diapers that use less or no fluffy pulp in their absorbent cores.
Growth will be much faster in non-woven substrate applications, especially airlaid constructions. This is supported by the global trend of eliminating plastics and plastic waste, especially in wipes. Lint pulp is one of the most durable raw materials in nonwoven inventory, wipes can contain 80-85% lint pulp; and this can go up to 90% for other products such as tablecloths. R&D is now focused on the development of biodegradable airlaid product lines, without plastic binders or binding fibers. There is also a small, but rapidly accelerating market for fluff pulp in spunlace nonwovens.
Southern softwoods will remain the primary tree species used in fluff pulp, this will be supplemented by other species, including South American eucalyptus grades, and limited use of manufactured fluff pulp from recovered/recycled sources.
The historical, current and future market for paper pulp around the world is expertly and critically examined in the new Smithers report The Future of Fluff Pulp to 2027.