New Technology Uses Natural Wood Fibers to Reinforce Plastic Materials
John Nairn, Richardson Chair in Wood Science and Engineering at Oregon State University, is collaborating with Joshua Otaigbe, a professor in the University of Southern Mississippi's school of polymers and high performance materials, on a new technology that uses natural wood fibers to reinforce plastic materials. If successful, "it could revolutionize the composite industry," especially manufacturing sectors that rely on these materials, such as building, construction, automobiles, and aircraft.
Moreover, wood fiber is renewable and based on agricultural products, and the composite materials developed would biodegrade after their service life without harming the environment.
Greater use of wood fibers in producing composites also could be a boost to the paper industry by providing an important new use for wood pulp, since paper is a raw material for the products. Wood fibers can be extracted from paper.
NSF is funding the work through its structural materials and mechanics program of the division of civil, mechanical, and manufacturing innovation.
Currently, the composite industry combines wood particles--not fibers--with its polymers, which saves money, but is a less than optimum way of doing it. The fiber is a lot stiffer and stronger than the wood particles, and provides the reinforcing capability for the plastic.
Using wood fibers instead of particles in the direct conversion of the polymer building blocks called monomers also allows manufacturers to eliminate the melting stage, which is when the materials are shaped, then later solidified into various products.
The process under development involves taking the wood fibers, usually within paper, and placing them in a mold, then injecting a "reaction" mixture used to make the polymers.
Scientists then raise the temperature to 150 degrees Celsius--relatively low when compared to traditional melting methods--and the mixture forms a composite "in a matter of minutes". The lower temperatures are important, since wood fibers tend to degrade at temperatures above 190 degrees Celsius.