The EUREKA project 2819-FACTORY ECOPLAST has developed ways of combining natural fibres including wood, flax, hemp and jute with thermoplastics to create new recyclable compounds for consumer products and audio component. The products are now ready to be commercialised.
The partners in the project have worked to develop compounds suitable for injection moulding and extrusion processes that combine two or more components in such a way that the resulting compound is better than any of the individual components alone.
“We need to develop new materials that are cheaper and better,” says project coordinator Uros Znidaric of ISOKON a thermoplastics manufacturer in Slovenia. “Ideally, such materials should also be more easily recyclable, reducing environmental impact.”
The project partners looked at compounding conditions, palletising processes, deformation properties, compatibility between natural fibres and thermoplastics, injection moulding parameters and possible applications.
“Once we had enough information about different compound properties, we then focused on product selection,” says Znidaric. This considered properties including rigidity, weight, price, the ability to saw and drill the material and wear and tear on machine equipment used in processing final products.
Znidaric says the resultant are materials are suitable for use in the manufacture of a wide variety of products, including vacuum cleaner and lawn mower parts, storage boxes and golf tees.
The partners also investigated the acoustic properties of the new materials. “Although wood is known for its good acoustics and is often used in musical instruments, today a lot of speaker boxes are made of injection-moulded polymers. We wanted to see if our new composite, which contains wood, might display better acoustic properties,” says Znidaric.
The wood fibre-filled composites developed under the project are suitable for use in loudspeaker boxes. Znidaric says both the damping of sound radiation and sound wave resistance of the material are comparable to those displayed by medium density fibreboard, one of the most commonly used materials in this application.