24.02.2022 - Green technology

Developing material from wood shavings and plastic waste

Appears wooden but is not. Brothers Artūrs and Edgars Kuka are working on a new type of building material: Greentile, a cladding board made from wood shavings and recycled plastic. This is how they intend to commercialize Edgars’s research work, which he has been working on since his undergraduate thesis.

They both like wood in the interior. But it is not the right material for all rooms. For example, wood needs special treatment to be used in the bathroom. “Our product solves this problem. It looks like a wooden board, but the moisture resistance is more like ceramic tile. You get the visual effect you want without worrying that the material will deteriorate,” says Artūrs. Edgars has ensured that the material is significantly less likely to swell with moisture and does not warp as wood typically would. It also does not mould or deteriorate.

The material visually looks like wood. Without looking closely, a layman would not be able to tell the difference. Artūrs adds that the product is much easier to work with than ceramic tiles, which get dusty during processing. It is also more difficult to remove. In the case of such wooden and plastic composite boards, assembly is very simple.

Researching for a PhD

Edgars came up with the idea for this material while working at the Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry and studying at Riga Technical University. Already in his bachelor’s thesis, he started researching this material. Edgars’s supervisors had previously worked in composites research and wood modification, which gave a solid basis for the idea and its detailed study.

 “In research, everything takes time, you can’t do everything quickly,” explains Edgars.

To test the properties of the material, his doctoral thesis involves aging it under specific conditions, subjecting it to adverse conditions: soaking it for long periods, drying it rapidly, irradiating it with ultraviolet rays, etc. The team has undergone a pre-incubation program at the Latvian Investment and Development Agency’s Jūrmala Business Incubator. The brothers also took part in the Idea Cup competition.

Second Life for Plastic Waste

Half of the material is wood shavings; the other half is recycled plastic waste.

“We are helping to reduce mountains of plastic waste. That’s another advantage. We don’t create new waste, more than that, we reuse existing waste,” says Artūrs.

The material will be made from recycled plastic: small balls produced right here in Latvia. This is in line with the European target of using at least ten million tonnes of recycled plastic a year. Four million tonnes have now been reached.

Artūrs says that only 30% of plastic waste is recycled in Europe so far. The rest goes to landfills or is incinerated. “The materials we create and others like them can boost demand for recycled plastics,” he says.

The brothers have calculated that tiling a 2×2.5 meter wall with this material reduces the amount of plastic waste in the world by ten kilograms. They hope the product could be of interest to Scandinavian countries, where green thinking is well established. Using wood shavings is also an environmentally friendly approach. In addition, the product can be recycled again after it has served its life. The idea is that in the future the company would collect and recycle the material itself.

Towards a Test Batch

“We are now at the stage where we are trying to make the first board, certify it, and test it in real use. We want to have an independent expert examination to make sure that the material fulfills all its intended functions,” says Artūrs. The process has been delayed by disruptions in the supply chain for specific additives. “A big problem is the specific equipment needed to manufacture this product, which costs around 200,000 euro. We cannot do without investors,” he adds.

A total of three machines are needed: for mixing, molding, and texturing the material. They have considered outsourcing, as similar equipment is used by companies to produce other products. However, none of the manufacturers approached has responded. “No one is so receptive to stop their production and make a small portion of an experimental product,” says Edgars.

So, the first step is to produce a test batch of the material using existing facilities. The aim is to get evidence that the functionality of the product is in line with what we have studied. This is expected to attract investor interest.


 

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