From a Tokyo Apple store, to a multimillion-dollar Malibu mansion and Google’s spectacular London HQ, Accoya features in multifarious cladding projects worldwide. Cladding is, in fact, a prime end use for the acetylation-modified timber; taking first or second place in overall sales in markets globally, including the UK.

According to marketing, communications and ESG/sustainability director George Neel, Accoya manufacturer Accsys Technologies also sees cladding’s significance for the product set to grow. Driven by its aesthetics and environmental credentials, the market appetite for timber cladding is developing internationally and, he said, Accsys is increasingly well-placed to satisfy it, with more production capacity coming on stream. This, in turn, will enable it to grow output of its increasingly popular through-dyed variant, Accoya Color, which also targets the cladding market.

While Accsys has a distinctly bullish outlook for 2023 and beyond, however, Mr Neel acknowledges it’s recently been through challenging times.

“Demand over the past year has been strong as ever, but has outstripped supply as we’ve been installing a fourth [acetylation] reactor at our Arnhem plant in the Netherlands to stay ahead of market growth,” said Mr Neel. “It’s taken a bit longer than expected, so our distributors and approved manufacturers have been somewhat short of product. It’s a testament to our close relationships– and their patience – that they’ve stuck with us. But it’s been frustrating.”

Pandemic sea freight disruption added to production constraints, hitting supply of the New Zealand radiata pine, on which Accoya is based.

But with the global logistics picture improving and the fourth reactor on stream (TTJ November/December 2022), boosting Arnhem’s output by 33%, Accsys now sees its supply issues resolving rapidly.

“Customers will see the benefits almost immediately and we’re forecasting a 50% increase in Accoya volumes in our second half,” said Mr Neel.

The added benefit of increased Accoya capacity, he said, is that more will be available to make Accoya Color at Accsys’ plant in Barry, acquired from former modified timber manufacturer Lignia in 2021.

“Accoya Color has principally sold in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and some parts of the US,” said Mr Neel. “At first it was used for decking, where it’s been a real success, but manufacturers increasingly wanted it for cladding too. We undertook trials and it looked really smart, so we’re now selling it across these two applications. We see that continuing to be the case as we launch into new markets. We didn’t push Color in the UK initially as we had decking front of mind for it and that hasn’t been a major market for us here. But now that it’s increasingly used in cladding too, which is Accoya’s second biggest UK application after joinery, we will be targeting it at the market further down the line.”

He added that Accsys thought there might be some cannibalisation of Accoya business by Accoya Color, but that hasn’t been the case.

“Sales have been incremental, so our preferred manufacturers using Accoya have not lost out,” he said. “It’s growing the Accoya pie, rather than resulting in it being sliced up differently.”

In a major strategic move, Accsys is also in a joint venture with Eastman Chemical to build an Accoya plant in the US, where cladding is the biggest market for the product.

“It’s a great partnership. Eastman has huge turnkey plant experience and we bring our Accoya technical, sales and marketing capabilities,” said Mr Neel. “There is also major interest in Accoya in the US. I recently did a multi-state tour and the appetite for it blew me away. One manufacturer said its all-round performance made it the ‘Ferrari of timber cladding’ and they loved selling it as they never got call backs.”

The new facility, in Kingsport, Tennessee, which is due to come on stream in March 2024, is being built with two acetylation reactors, but with pits set up for a third and fourth, so it can rapidly add capacity.

US production will also free up supply from Arnhem for other national markets, including for cladding.

Leading to the start-up of the new facility, Accsys has been focusing on the US market “to develop a pipeline of sales” for Accoya. “So once the plant is on stream there will be a lot more product available elsewhere, including in the UK and the rest of Europe,” said Mr Neel.

To grow supply further and help increase the geographic spread of its markets, Accsys is also looking to develop and diversify its raw materials supply base.

“One thing we’re researching is how we can use more of each individual tree, including through development of engineered Accoya products, using smaller sections of timber, finger-jointed or laminated,” said Mr Neel. “We’re also applying our modification process to different species. Recently we’ve trialled South American taeda pine with very promising results and great feedback from distributors and manufacturers.”

Accsys maintains it does not “actively brief against” other timber species in any application. Instead it sees Accoya’s principal competitors as more energy intensive materials, such as aluminium for cladding, wood composites for decking, and vinyl for windows.

“We believe there will always be demand for products in softwood, treated timbers, temperate hardwoods and sustainably sourced tropical timber,” said Mr Neel. “What we do is present our performance and sustainability credentials as clearly as we can – the fact our products are durable and very cost competitive when you take into account life expectancy and low maintenance. Plus they’re based on a renewable resource; fast-growing trees that are harvested after just 25 years to produce a timber warrantied for 50 years, but which can last 60 to 100 years-plus in multiple applications. Using this information, people can then benchmark our credentials against other materials’ and make informed purchasing decisions.”

The London Google HQ has undoubtedly been the headline-grabbing Accoya cladding application recently. The 300m-wide building is a clear expression of the search engine giant’s environmental commitment – it also includes a roof garden and special bird and bat habitats – and its 23,000m2 façade features glass and Accoya, specified by designers Heatherwick Studios, in the form of cladding and louvres.

“We’re getting more and more specifications for Accoya based on its sustainability credentials, rather than just its performance, particularly for commercial buildings,” said Mr Neel. “The Google building, which is described as a ‘landscraper’, as long as the Shard is high, is a case in point, and its use of Accoya, in what is the world’s biggest timber and glass façade, really demonstrates its qualities and potential.”

The recently built US$32m Merisol residence in Malibu is another impressive Accoya showcase, featuring cladding inside and out, including in charred, shou sugi banstyle around a hearth. It’s billed as California’s first zero carbon home.

But it’s not just in such spectacular projects that Accoya cladding is making headway. It continues to grow its following across private housing and commercial building sectors, maintaining a pretty even divide in sales across the two markets.

“We got a boost in the private housing sector from the home improvement boom that started in the pandemic. There’s been some course correction here, but it still represents a buoyant market for Accoya. Householders are also increasingly sustainability focused and drawn to biophilic house design, while our distributors and manufacturers are doing a great job explaining the products’ technical and environmental credentials to them and developing Accoya cladding systems,” said Mr Neel. “We also supply product for use in commercial buildings across the board, with Accoya cladding growing a particularly strong following in retail; from B&M, to Starbucks and Waitrose stores.”

And into the future, Accsys sees demand for wood cladding generally and Accoya cladding in particular continuing to climb, increasingly driven, not just by a growing popular affinity for more environmentally sound, natural building products, but also regulation to decarbonise construction.

 “We’ve seen it in France with its RE2020 regulation, which stipulates that 50% of products used in public buildings must comprise timber or other bio-based material,” said Mr Neel. “And we expect similar rules to be introduced elsewhere, including the UK.”

Accsys is also now launching a new consumer promotional push in the UK to drive brand awareness. “Development of Accoya Color and introduction of our own profiled material for decking, have brought Accsys closer to the consumer,” said Mr Neel. “But research shows that still only 2% of our 10-15 million-strong target market in the UK know the brand. We want to change that.”

The focus of the company’s debut TV campaign is very much on durability and sustainability.

“The story follows the experience of a young girl becoming a young woman as seen through an Accoya window,” said Mr Neel. “The message is that, while we’re in an increasingly fast-changing world, there are some things that are consistent, that you can trust and rely on.”

While the commercial features a joinery product, he added, the goal is to raise Accoya’s profile generally and impact use across multiple applications. It is set to air late February.