The last 12 months have been busy for Accsys Technologies, the Netherlandsbased company behind Accoya solid wood and Tricoya panel products. Sales and revenues are up significantly, more outlets than ever are selling its materials, there have been awards and environmental plaudits, and it has secured two game-changing licensing deals to increase market reach and production capacity.

These achievements are on the back of €100m spent developing product and process patents on the acetylation of softwoods into durable hardwood – primarily from radiata pine from New Zealand and red alder for the US market. Now it is testing a wider range of species to be used in the process. But when will the product mature into mainstream markets and into black ink for the business?

"The company is still losing money, but less than it was," said chief executive Paul Clegg after issuing a recent trading update. "We have said to our investors that we expect sometime in the next two years that we will be profitable – and we have enough cash to see us through to that time." Accsys has boosted total revenue by 25% and sales by 45% to £16.4m, the number of distributors is now 42, three more since the start of the year, and its products are now sold in 40 countries.

"We have seen a 40% growth in demand for this material and that suggests it has become an established material that is gaining market share," said Mr Clegg. "If you look at MDF in the 1980s, it took time – 15-16 years of growth trends – to become what it is today and there were people then who questioned whether they had made the right move."

Overcoming price premium
He believes greater overall regulation and specification for performance, and acceptance by the more conservative in the wood industry, will help Accoya and Tricoya "gain traction" and overcome the price premium in times of weak demand and soft prices in competing hardwoods.

"Our distributors are doing great work demonstrating the material and its uses to the industry," said Mr Clegg. "When it does take hold it is so encouraging. For the time being you have to assume that it is a high price product. But if you take joinery; wood is 15% of the cost of a window but the primary reasons for customer dissatisfaction is if it is rattling in the summer and sticking in the autumn. For a few per cent more on the end price, that can be avoided with the stability and also the durability of Accoya," he said.

Accsys imports radiata pine to its manufacturing plant in Arnhem and, through its patented acetylation process, creates a timber of greater dimensional stability, reducing shrinking and swelling by 75% and allowing for longer lasting finishes, high strength and hardness, and Class 1 durability as virtual proof against rot.

The company was in buoyant mood at Ecobuild where it celebrated new research revealing that windows made from the modified wood are carbon negative and that Tricoya, made by Coillte Panel Products as Medite Tricoya under licence for Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands using acetylated feedstock from Accsys, was product of the year at the Sustain Magazine Awards for the built environment.

Among recent products is an Accoya-faced laminated redwood window component developed by International Timber. The supplier said it could cut 30% off the cost of a comparable solid modified wood component and was only about 8% more expensive than sapele.

Joint ventures
Major achievements in the development of these products have been a joint venture with petrochemical giant Ineos Industries to exploit Tricoya for use in MDF, chipboard and wood plastic composites, in addition to an agreement with a Latin American board manufacturer. The 50:50 partnership in Tricoya Technologies will boost the commercialisation of the material in the €60bn-a-year panel product market.

The other deal is with Solvay-Rhodia in Germany to build a 63,000m3 capacity Accoya plant that will become operational by the end of next year. The current plant is running at 50% capacity.

Mr Clegg said the first stages of the engineering Process Design Package are under way, however, Solvay-Rhodia has already developed and launched a new finished decking product for market testing in 40 outlets in Europe. Accoya is already sold as a decking material, but this is supplied as the final product, in different finishes and colours; it will eventually be available in the UK.

Some of the most encouraging moves have been in Tricoya. "We have seen it used in so many things – climbing frames for the military, signage, on cruise ships, and what is encouraging is that it replaces more expensive materials or it has been used in places that MDF has never been used before, so it is becoming a new material class," Mr Clegg said.

Accsys is also concentrating on introducing new species into the mix. The basic raw material is radiata pine but American red alder has been used in the US operation and the company has been looking at spruce, Scots pine, beech and alder.

Technical challenges
There is a technical challenge associated with this: "Accoya is a species-specific, batch process; Tricoya is a species-agnostic continuous process and each has its limitations," said Mr Clegg.

There are no norms for acetylating different species, and differing physical characteristics would make the process very different, although the theory the same.

"With Tricoya, because of the small dimensions of the chips we can acetylate the different species, but you need vast tonnage because it needs to be a continuous flow process," he said.

"It’s the sort of challenge we face, as well as the market and the price, but we have invested €100m developing this process, we have the patents and we are seeing acceptance and growth of our product."