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Team Harvests Potato-based Boards

Thursday, November 7, 2013

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UK chemists have dug up a new wood-based product similar to medium-density fibreboard (MDF) that replaces urea-formaldehyde resin with one based on potato starch.

Cheaper than real wood, MDF is a popular engineered lookalike product widely used for furniture, cabinetry, millwork and other products in homes, offices, and retail environments. However, because MDF cannot be recycled, waste MDF either has to be incinerated or ends up in landfill.

The new biodegradable and recyclable form of MDF could "dramatically reduce" the problem of future waste, reports the University of Leicester in an Oct. 31 research announcement.

© Andrew Abbott

The University of Leicester team produced starch-based boards that were made into retail display units.

In the UK alone, almost one million tonnes of MDF is produced each year, according to the researchers.

Reinventing MDF

MDF is made by breaking down pieces of wood into wood fibres, which are then pressurized and bound with resin and wax. Typically, the resin used in the process is composed of urea-formaldehyde (UF), the use of which is restricted due to health concerns, according to the researchers.

However, with the aid of colleagues at the Biocomposites Centre, Bangor University and the Leicestershire-based retail design company Sheridan and Co., the team produced starch-based boards that have been made into retail display units.

The new material is easier to manufacture and to work with than current MDF boards, the team reports.

The components of the material are easily pre-mixed and set with only the application of heat and pressure; end-user feedback suggests it is also easier to work with than currently available MDF boards, the team says.

The technology is further described in this video.

Innovation Award

The researchers, led by Chemistry Professor Andrew Abbott, recently received the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2013 for the recyclable MDF product.

The Brian Mercer Award for Innovation is a designed to fill the funding gap for scientists who wish to develop a proven concept or prototype into a near-market product ready for commercial exploitation.

“It is impressive to see someone take a material that is commonplace in all of our homes and solve its key limitations,” said Professor Anthony Cheetham, vice president and treasurer of the Royal Society.

“Professor Abbott has managed to re-invent MDF, transforming it into a product that has much more relevance in an environmentally conscious society.”

As part of the award, Abbott received £172,347 ($277,599 USD), which will be used to bring the four collaborators together to create a supply chain to create prototypes for the point-of-sale market.

Abbott and his team at University of Leicester say they are also developing new fillers for plastics based on orange and banana peel and eggshell.


Tagged categories: Bio-based materials; Coating chemistry; Coatings Technology; Recycled building materials; Resins; Wood; Wood composites

Comment from Walter Rayburn, (11/7/2013, 7:31 AM)

This is a great inovation, I sincerely hope that some of the issues that were experienced with caulking, priming, and painting MDF boards will be improved as well as the out-gasing of the formaldehyde that had to be seald with a vapor barrier primer.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/7/2013, 9:11 AM)

Sounds like a good innovation, too bad it is another product (like fuel ethanol) which diverts food into non-food.

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