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Northeast Section discussed opportunities in wood thermoplastic composites.

Attendees of this year's Northeast Section Spring Conference and Annual Meeting were presented with 2 days of demonstrations and discussion surrounding the current technology of wood thermoplastic composites. Thursday afternoon, May 13, featured an extensive tour of the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center (AEWC) on the campus of the University of Maine, Orono. Conference organizer, Dr. Lech Muszynski, and Director of the Center, Dr. Habib Dagher, hosted the tour. The aim of the Center is to provide one-stop-shopping for research, testing, engineering, and consulting in the area of structural composites. A distinguishing characteristic of the Center is the drive to assist industry and agencies in the commercial development of new products. Tour participants were shown a new laminated strand lumber product using low-grade northern hardwoods, full-scale test apparatus for engineering earth-quake-ready wall systems, wood-thermoplastic extrusion machinery, visual analysis equipment, and other destructive and nondestructive testing technology.

The following day featured a full slate of national speakers covering a wide range of issues in thermoplastic composites. The meeting was held in Bar Harbor, Maine. Following the welcome by Dr. Habib Dagher, a review of current equipment technologies in the extrusion of wood plastic composites was presented by Kevin Slularz, of the Davis-Standard division of the Crompton Corporation. Slularz described the pros and cons of a variety of equipment types including conical, double extruders, and wood-truders. These can all handle wood plastic composite mixes in the range of 50-50 wood-plastic by weight.

Martin Grohman, of Correct Building Products, LLC, makers of CorrectDeck wood-plastic composite decking, discussed the future market potential for composite decking. Grohman is an advocate for an industry trade association for the composite decking market and is critical of enforcement of forest certification standards for imported hardwood decking material, which competes closely with composite material on a price basis. Grohman sees the industry transitioning from a high-growth, R & D focused business strategy, to one where the focus shifts to securing distribution and holding on to shelf space.

Research results relative to the physical characteristics including strength, color-fastness, and durability of wood thermoplastics was presented by Anatole Klyosov of Kadant Composites, Inc. Kadant is the producer of GeoDeck, a composite decking material consisting of plastic, wood fibers, and minerals. Klyosov pointed out that strength properties generally decline over time, are increased in colder climates, and decrease in higher temperatures.

Dr. Paul Smith of The Pennsylvania State University next presented on the topic of wood-plastic composite market development issues. Echoing an earlier presentation, Smith pointed out the challenges of supplying the changing building materials distribution system. With the emergence of megaretailers like The Home Depot and Loews, who combined account for 48 percent of the $200 billion retail homecenter market, producers are advised to clearly identify the markets they are willing to serve. In addition to the retail market, an industrial market exists with very different supply channels. The industrial market is, perhaps, better served by developing relations with engineers and architects who specify materials for construction. Smith concluded with suggestions for areas of expansion in the use of wood-plastic composites, including further in-roads into the decking market, window and door frames, siding, and structural uses. To succeed in these new markets, producers will have to successfully battle for position in distribution channels and overcome user and consumer concerns with product weight, hollow-core products, and creep properties.

Professor Douglas Gardner from the AEWC presented an experimental study on the anisotropic thermal expansion of wood-thermoplastic composites. Research shows the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of extruded wood-plastic composites in the direction of extrusion was more significant than in width and thickness. The CTE of wood-plastic composites falls between that of wood and plastic but cannot be predicted with a simple rule of mixtures approach.

Ellen C. Lee's presentation was titled "The Sustainable Mindset: Natural Fiber Composites in Automotive" and it introduced Ford Motor Company's concept vehicle that embodies a vision for sustainable materials and manufacturing. Lee presented recent research on new composite materials based on natural fibers obtained from renewable resources. Different forms of sustainability in modern products were presented, which can result in a lighter and less expensive product overall. The principal challenges were optimizing the process (e.g., fiber forms, dispersion, moisture) and compatibility between the fiber and composite matrix. Methods to eliminate/reduce moisture absorption of natural fiber composites during field use were also explored.

The day's final presentation was by Peter Dylingowski from the Biocides Lab, Plastic Additives, in the Rohm & Haas Co. Susceptibility of commercial wood-plastic composite decking to mildew and its prevention with Isothiazolone biocide were discussed. It was shown that all five untreated commercial wood-plastic composite decking samples were highly susceptible to fungi. The effectiveness of the Isothiazolone DCOIT biocide was demonstrated on two separate production runs.

By David T. Damery

Section Secretary
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Title Annotation:Bulletin Board
Author:Damery, David T.
Publication:Forest Products Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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