Two new companies have now stepped up to join a team of seven geotextile manufacturers, expecting big gains from this promising sector.
The one entrant, Western Superior Jute Industries Limited, has already gone into production on a limited scale, while another newcomer, Confidence Infrastructure Limited, has invested Tk200 crore and is planning to begin manufacturing geotextile products in March next year.
Industry insiders have linked the arrival of new investments to a high expectation that the demand for geotextile products will see excellent growth in coming days with the government taking up many road, rail and river projects.
Shahidul Islam, chief operating officer of Confidence Infrastructure, told The Business Standard, "Our factory will be able to produce 70-80 tonnes of geotextiles per day once it goes into operation in the first quarter of 2022. The factory will also employ more than 500 people."
The company will initially start with two non-woven needle geotextile production lines and gradually, it will double its investment as per needs, he said.
They are also importing two modern machine lines from Germany, which will be shipped next month, Sahidul added.
Demand for geotextiles will grow day by day as there are many infrastructure development projects on the pipeline, he also said, adding that Bangladesh has potential to export such products in the future too.
Engineer Abu Hasnat, senior manager at Western Superior Jute Industries Limited, said, "We are now manufacturing six tonnes of geotextiles per day. We are also setting up new machine lines to enhance production."
"Our total investment now stands at around Tk30 crore," he added.
Geotextiles are polypropylene or polyester fabrics used in construction of roads, drains, flood protection embankments, and for land reclamation and many other civil engineering purposes.
According to sources, 1.47 crore geobags and 68,000 geotubes were used in river training meant for the Padma bridge project.
The main raw material, polypropylene fibre, for manufacturing geotextiles is imported from China, Vietnam and a few Middle East countries.
No reliable information has been found on the amount of investment in the country's geotextile sector. Companies also do not want to disclose their turnover information.
However, the people involved in the sector said the amount of investment of a company depends on the quality of geotextile lines it instals - new or reconditioned ones. For example, a company can go into production with a single reconditioned machine line for a total investment amounting Tk8-Tk10 crore.
BJ Geo-Textile Limited, the largest producer, and Dird Felt Ltd started manufacturing geotextile products with at least six manufacturing lines each.
They said the sector has so far witnessed an investment of around Tk700 crore.
The demand for geotextiles in Bangladesh now stands at Tk1,000-Tk1,200 crore per year. The use of geobags started in the country from 1995. The demand then was mainly met through imports, mainly from Malaysia. With a continuous rise in demand for geotextiles, dependence on imports decreased considerably following the commencement of domestic production of nonwoven geotextiles.
At present, seven local companies meet over 95% of the country's demand for nonwoven geotextiles. And, woven geotextiles are used in some projects, including of railways, but domestic companies do not manufacture such type.
Industry people say the use of woven geotextiles, which needs to be imported, is not more than 2%.
According to sources, Dird Felt Ltd, a sister concern of Dird Group, was the first to start marketing geotextiles in the country. The company employed about 1,000 people and has a daily production capacity of about 75 tonnes.
Saumitra Mutsuddi, executive director of Dird Felt, told TBS that the company supplied half of geobags and geotubes used in river training for the Padma bridge project.
Geotextiles are widely used in river protection, river training, dam construction, and infrastructure development all over the world, he said, adding, "The use of such products will go up further in Bangladesh, so will its market size."
He could not provide any clear information on his company's annual turnover, but another reliable source said their annual business volume amounted to Tk200 crore last year.
However, there are also contradictory statements about the geotextile's market size or future prospects. On condition of anonymity, a senior official of Nahee Geotextile Industries Ltd, told TBS that the current market size of geotextile products has remained stagnant for the last few years. Rather, the demand has decreased a bit in this pandemic time.
Capacity is now greater than demand for such products, leading to three out of the seven companies crippling as they cannot stay competitive in the market, he said.
"Newcomers now will have their stakes in the market. So, someone has to make an exit," he added.
However, officials of new companies do not agree with such statements.
They said Bangladesh is a riverine country and every year river dredging, construction of dams on river banks, river training will increase, so will the use of geobags.
According to sources, BJ Geo-Textile Limited's production capacity is now the highest in Bangladesh. It has sophisticated equipment for the production of geobags.
Rahat Geo-Textile & Synthetic Ltd, FG Geotextile, Orchid Geotextile Ltd, RM Geotex Ltd also manufacture geotextiles.
Why jute geotextile cannot grab market
The use of jute geotextile is increasing worldwide as it is environment friendly. But its use is very minimal in Bangladesh.
At a discussion, former chairman of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) Shah Mohammad Nasim said "There is a huge potential for jute geotextile in the domestic market. If we can meet 85% of domestic demand through the private sector, the sector will make great progress and will contribute to the economy."
Harunur Rasheed, former chief engineer at the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), said the price of jute geotextile is the same as that of one made from polypropylene. But geojute gets damaged within one or two years of use. So, such a type is not being widely used.
"Again, it is not always available. After placing an order, it may take up to one and a half months to get a geojute product after it is made in any BJMC factory," he added.
Masbahul Islam, sub-divisional engineer at the BWDB, told TBS, "We prefer geotextiles made from polypropylene that can last up to 20 years or so. We also use geojute but in a small quantity,"
BJ Group, Janata Sadat Jute Mills and two other mills make jute geotextiles.
ABM Kamruzzam, general manager at BJ Group, "We get only one or two orders for jute geotextile products a year."