COA container floors report reveals bamboo still top choice as search for tropical hardwood alternatives continues

The latest report on ‘Alternative materials for container floorboards’ released by the New Materials Committee of the Container Owners Association has revealed that bamboo and bamboo hardwood/softwood hybrids remain the primary alternative materials to tropical hardwood plywood used by the container industry.

The seventh revision of the annual report shows that since the publication of the last report, there have been no major developments in the hunt for alternative materials to replace tropical hardwood plywood as the most common material used for container floors. However, the use of bamboo, bamboo hardwood/softwood hybrids and bamboo OSB (oriented strand board) continues to grow as the most popular alternative material. There are now many manufacturers of this type of floor with production rising 55% in 2014 to approximately 1,250,000TEU, up from 806,000TEU in 2013. Bamboo now has a nearly 40% market share.

2014 was another challenging year for the container industry with the profitability of all sectors remaining under pressure. However, there was an increase in the volume of dry container production from 2,400,000 TEU in 2013 to a total of 3,135,860 TEU in 2014, driven by increased trade growth and replacement. The primary focus of the buyers has continued to be obtaining the lowest price rather than improving the specification or improving the environmental impact of their new container production.

There are other alternatives being developed but none have yet achieved significant production volumes. The best prospects are a steel floor design, OSB floorboards and wood/composite hybrids.

The pressure to find an effective alternative has increased as tropical hardwood plywood floor manufacturers have found it increasingly difficult and costly to source wood of the right strength and have resorted to using local hardwoods and softwoods for the inner plies of the floorboards. Tropical hardwood plywood floor prices have increased slightly even while container prices have been dropping during the year. The cost of a tropical hardwood plywood floor for a 20ft container during 2014 was approximately $280 – 290, up from $250 in 2013.

“The industry is yet to find a suitable single alternative to the traditional tropical hardwood plywood and many companies are looking at price over quality and environmental impact,” says Nigel Stribley, COA representative for Floors and Paints and Director of Blue Sky Intermodal. “Several products have been tried and bamboo hybrids seem to be doing well, but the search is still on to find a material that meets every need.”

In addition to providing a summary of the developments in the container flooring industry over the last year, the recent report from COA provides a detailed overview of the type of floor materials currently available, as well as a list of the alternative floor material suppliers and a comparison table of alternative materials.

Members may download the Report and Comparison Sheet (above). A summary is available for non-Members.