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Products from wood and natural fibre composites are sustainable, offer a natural look and feel

Products from wood and natural fibre composites are sustainable, offer a natural look and feel

28-Jan-16

Decking and automotive are the most important application sectors for Wood Plastic Composites (WPC), followed by siding and fencing. Only the automotive sector is relevant for Natural Fibre Composites (NFC) today. As per a study by nova-Institute, the share of WPC and NFC in the total composite market- including glass, carbon, wood and Natural Fibre Composites- is already an impressive 15%. Even higher shares are to be expected in the future: NFC are starting to enter other markets than just the automotive industry. WPC granulates for injection moulding are now produced and offered by global players and are becoming more attractive for clients that manufacture consumer goods, automotive and technical parts. With increasing polymer prices and expected incentives for bio-based products (the bio-based economy is one of the lead markets in Europe) this trend will go from strength to strength, resulting in two-digit growth and increasing market shares over the coming decade. The total volume of WPC production in Europe was 260,000 tons in 2012 (plus 92,000 tons of Natural Fibre Composites for the automotive industry). The level of market penetration of bio-based composites varies between regions and from one application field to the next. Germany leads the way in terms of the number of actors and production figures. 45% (85,000 tons) of European WPC production for decking, fencing and other construction applications (190,000 tons) was extruded by 20 German companies. The typical production process in Europe is extrusion of a decking profile based on a PVC or PE matrix followed by PP. Increasing market penetration by WPC has meant that WPC volumes have risen strongly and Europe is now a mature WPC market. This study predicts growth, especially in the German-speaking world, on the back of a recovery in construction, particularly renovation, and a further increase in the WPC share of the highly competitive decking market. Also, variations of WPC decking models such as capped embossed solid profiles or garden fencing are on the rise across Europe. The development of the distribution across applications points to a state of affairs in which WPC is increasingly used for applications beyond the traditional ones like decking or automotive parts. For example, WPC is increasingly used to produce furniture, technical parts, consumer goods and household electronics, using injection moulding and other non-extrusion processes. Also, new production methods are being developed for the extrusion of broad WPC boards. Interior parts for the automotive industry is by far the most dominant use of Natural Fibre Composites- other sectors such as consumer goods are still at a very early stage. In the automotive sector, Natural Fibre Composites have a clear focus on interior trims for highvalue doors and dashboards. Wood-Plastic Composites are mainly used for rear shelves and trims for trunks and spare wheels, as well as in interior trims for doors. The total volume of 80,000 tons of different wood and natural fibres used in the 150,000 tons of composites for passenger cars and lorries that were produced in Europe in 2012 (90,000 tons of Natural Fibre Composites and 60,000 tons of WPC). Recycled cotton fibre composites are mainly used for the driver cabins of lorries. The production and use of 150,000 tons biocomposites (using 80,000 tons of wood and natural fibres) in the automotive sector in 2012 could expand to over 600,000 tons of biocomposites in 2020, using 150,000 tons of wood and natural fibres each along with some recycled cotton. Yet this fast development will not take place if there are no major political incentives to increase the bio-based share of the materials used in cars. Without incentives we forecast that production will only increase to 200,000 tons. Huge percentage increases can also be expected for WPC granulates used in injection moulding for all kind of technical and consumer goods. With improved technical properties, lower prices and bigger suppliers capable of supporting their customers, we forecast a growth from the tiny amount of 10,000 tons in 2012 to 100,000 tons by 2020. Additional incentives might at least double the production. For NFC granulates we foresee only niche markets with specific demand, reaching 10% of the WPC granulate market or 10,000 tons in 2020. The most important markets are decking, light-weight components for automobile interiors and consumer goods like toys, as per nova-Institute (DE).


Winners at nova-Institute and Coperion's Wood and Natural Fibre Award 2015:
First place was awarded to ONORA BV (NL) for its 100% bio-based coffin with hemp fibre reinforcement in injection moulding technology. The product is injection moulded which allows for great freedom of design and a variety of shapes and colours. The bio-based compound makes the coffin biodegradable and is an example for new large-volume applications of biocomposites. Life cycle assessments show a CO2 footprint that is not only lower than the CO2 footprint of conventional but also other eco-coffins.
Second place was awarded to Millvision BV (NL) for its flower pots made of biodegradable biocomposite with agro rest fibres. These flower pots produced of agro rest fibres from pepper and tomato cultivation and bio-based plastics are price competitive. They are used for tree nurseries and market-gardens and are cold soil biodegradable within just a few months. This new pot acts as fertilizer, improves plant growth and therefore prevents plastic waste from oil based containers and the associated expense.
Third place was awarded to Aqvacomp Oy and Flaxwood Oy (FI) for its Cellulose fibre-reinforced polystyrene for music instruments. Those composites have the potential to replace the use of a number of rare and threatened wood species. Several recipes have been developed for various musical instruments with equivalent property profiles, for example a cellulose fibre composite replacing granadilla wood in clarinets. The components have excellent thermal and humidity resistance, reducing the typical tuning problems of wooden instruments.

Other nominated products include:  
Flax grid fabric for reinforcement of thin-walled light weight composite parts - The novel natural fibre composite solution for automotive interior components has a higher price-performance-ratio than composites currently on the market due to its powerRibs technology (patented). The flax grid fabric can be combined with all types of structural materials, such as carbon fibre composites, glass fibre composites or non-woven natural fibre composites.
Long fiber for injection moulding with a cold-press method - These long fibre pellets with more than 50% hemp fibre content, polypropylene and additives are produced with pellet technology. They can be used for injection moulded parts with standard machines and standard tools as a substitution of PC/ABS with 20% glass fibre content. Their fibre structure gives them a unique look and makes them suitable for use outside the automotive industry.
Natural fibre composite and stainless steel knife- The handle of the new KUPILKA® Knife is made from Kareline® Natural Fibre Composite which gives it a good grip and a smooth-to-the-touch surface, thus ensuring safe handling of the knife. The blade is made from high quality stainless steel. The magnetic locking mechanism of the knife is unique due to its folding two-piece handle that protects the blade.

Natural fibre composites are plastics reinforced with natural fibres: mostly wood, bamboo, flax or hemp. They are increasingly used in consumer goods like watchcases, toys, combs and trays.  For many years, research institutes and industrial labs have been developing wood-plastic composites (WPC) and natural fibre composites (NFC). Industries use the materials in small series of consumer goods. The end products have a more refined look than pure plastic products, they stand out, look more natural, have a nice feel and need less plastic due to the wood and natural fibres – which benefits the environmental footprint. Mechanical properties are as good as those of their competitors. But most importantly, the products appeal to consumers. So far, the only market with considerable volumes is the decking and flooring market. But now, natural fibre composites have been developed well enough to enter into other major markets, like the automotive industry. The most commonly used plastics are PP, PE and PVC, but also biobased materials are used, such as bio PE and PLA. New natural fibre composites products are continuously introduced in the market. For instance, the German company Tchibo introduced a WPC bedside table clock, while Thai company Plantoys introduced a series of toys with wood particles from old rubber trees as a filler. The surfaces of the toys have a pleasant rubber-like feel, quite different from traditional plastics. Bamboo fibres too, are increasingly used in consumer goods, such as in trays from the Chinese company Yong used in organic restaurants.

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