Even though it is well known that there is a decrease in strength for foamed plastics, the strength decrease in WPCs is greater than with other thermoplastics. Researchers have focused on development of physical blowing agents using a phase of super critical fluids that can be dissolved into polymer melts under high temperature and pressure Rizvi and Matuana The solubility of physical blowing agents helps distribute the cells evenly and limits the cell size so that the significant mechanical deterioration can be avoided.
Foamed styrene-wood composites have been produced at the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center using reactive extrusion Han The blowing agents are created by the chemical reactions during the extrusion process and efficiently dissolved into the polymer melt where the dissolution occurs in the mixing zone of the barrel next to the venting zone so that there is a minimum loss of blowing agents through venting.
Another important issue is the increase of WPC applications for structural uses. To increase the stiffness of WPC-based polyolefin polymers, a cross-linking process has been examined using silane cross linking. The silane cross-linked high density polyethylene wood composites were stored at high humidity and high temperature to increase the degree of cross-linking Bengtsson The toughness was significantly increased but the stiffness did not change.
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In another study of cross-linked WPCs, a silane compound was used as a coupling agent to improve the interfacial properties between wood fillers and HDPE and another silane compound was applied as the cross- linking agent of the polymer matrix Han The combined silane compounds did not have any incompatibility issues since they are similar chemical structures.
It was found that both mechanical properties of stiffness and strength were significantly improved. Wood flour acts as a solid structure networked with the cross-linked polymer matrix.
It is believed that a loading of wood filler treated with a coupling agent could interact with the polymer matrix in the cross-linking mechanism, resulting in an enhancement of the close contact and physical linkages between two different materials. To upgrade the stiffness of WPCs, the selection of the polymer matrix is one of the major issues. Polyethylene terephthalate PET , polyamide PA, Nylon , and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene ABS are typical engineering plastics with superior mechanical and thermal properties.
Two extruders were combined to minimize the retention time for wood exposure to the high processing temperatures. One extruder feeds melted polymer into a twin screw extruder designed for efficient and rapid mixing to compound the polymer melt and cold wood flour. The retention time of wood to be exposed to very hot polymer melt was controlled at less than 4 minutes residence time. In this process, the severe thermal degradation could be avoided and nylon-wood composites could be produced.
Another method of using engineering plastics in WPCs is viscosity modification of the pure engineering plastics. At the AEWC Center, Orono, Maine, several viscosity modifiers, which have low viscosity or special functional groups, were tested to examine the viscosity decreasing effect.
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Moreover, various polymer blends were tested as well to observe the changes in rheological properties. This study is now in progress and the results will be published in the near future. Nanocellulose which can be fabricated by chemical and mechanical processes, has recently become the focus of WPC manufacture.
Due to the high aspect ratio and nano- scale sizes of nanocellulose, an expectation of remarkable increases in mechanical and physical properties of composites has received attention. In current processes, the nano- cellulose, however, can only exist unagglomerated in water suspensions since the nano scale particles can not be maintained after secondary processes, such as drying.
During the drying process, the cellulose polymer chains are easily agglomerated due to hydrogen bonding between the polymer chains, resulting in increases of particle sizes. With this motivation, cellulose nano-whisker suspensions were plasticized using a plasticizer and pumped into an extruder to produce cellulose acetate butyrate composite reinforced with cellulose nano-whiskers Bondeson At the AEWC Center, various studies are being conducted in developing efficient drying methods, functionalization of nanocellulose, development of new processes directly using nanocellulose suspensions in thermoplastic matrices, etc.
This new movement in the WPC industry and academic organizations will not only expand the applications but also their market sizes. References Bengtsson, M, and Oksman, K. Profile extrusion and mechanical properties of crosslinked wood-thermoplastic composites. Polymer Composites Bondeson, D. All cellulose nanocomposites produced by extrusion. Journal of Biobased Materials and Bioenergy 1 : Eder, A.
Wood plastic composite — An European market overview. In: Proceedings, 1st international symposium of wood-plastic composite in China: Development and prospect; November; Yangling, China. Green, E. Time to re-focus. Applied Market Information Ltd. Han, Y.
Investigation of foamed styrene wood composites by reactive extrusion, Technical project report , Advanced Engineered Wood Composite Center, University of Maine. Matuana, L. Society of Plastics Engineers. Morton, J.
WPCs-Putting innovation of faster track. Forest Product Society. Nash, J. Park, C. Download Settings Share. Chart type. Share on Social Media. Download started Please be patient - this may take a moment. Description Source More information.
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