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Building a future for straw

An innovative way of turning straw into quality board suitable for use in the furniture and construction industries has been developed by a group of European SMEs.

Background

Since the 1980s, the price of wood and wood-based panels used in both the furniture and constructio...
An innovative way of turning straw into quality board suitable for use in the furniture and construction industries has been developed by a group of European SMEs.

Background

Since the 1980s, the price of wood and wood-based panels used in both the furniture and construction industries has steadily increased as the world's forests have decreased dramatically. At the same time, Europe's farmers have been under pressure to fund alternatives to straw burning - in some European countries the practice has already been banned. Now a consortium of SMEs and research teams has come up with a solution to these problems: turning the straw into high-quality, competitively priced board, known as strawboard.

Description, impact and results

Straw has not been previously used for board manufacture employing conventional formaldehyde-based resins because its fibrous cells are surrounded by a layer of wax. This prevents the water-based formaldehyde resins (UF) - widely used today in industrial fibreboard and MDF (medium-density fibreboard) manufacture - from forming a sufficiently strong bond between the fibres. The consortium has developed a process for removing the wax by using a combination of mechanical sheer forces, and thermal and chemical treatment. This new technology ruptures the straw and allows conventional UF resin, or other formaldehyde-based resins, to penetrate and adhere to individual straw fibres.

Strawboard produced by this process matches MDF in appearance, surface smoothness and strength, but has two major advantages. First, it promises to be 20% cheaper to produce - with world-wide sales of particle- and fibreboard worth over 7 billion euros a year - and therefore has the potential to make a huge impact on the market. Second, it is environmentally oriented because the agriwaste is recovered and transformed into value-added products.

Work is now ongoing to set up an industrial pilot production with the co-operation of Siempelkamp GmbH, in Germany, and Akritas S.A., a Greek board manufacturer, at the industrial facilities of Pindos. If everything goes to plan, this will be up and running by mid-2001, and will enable the partners to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of the technology. The process is being patented in more than 40 countries and will be licensed world-wide. In particular, the partners are anticipating widespread interest from southern Europe and North Africa, and also from countries such as China and India where wood is relatively scarce but straw is plentiful.

Working partnerships

The technology, which was developed in its first stage by the Greek SME Marlit Ltd., a subsidiary of A.C.M. Wood Chemicals, has now reached a stage permitting its world-wide commercialisation by the EU's Innovation programme. It involves four European SMEs (see above) and Woodchem Europe - a Belgian industrial resin manufacturer and project co-ordinator. INP-ENSCT (Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse), a French university researcher institute, is also playing a key role in the consortium.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge

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