A novel new form of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) that’s both biodegradable and recyclable can be created by substituting a resin derived from common plant starches, such as those in potatoes, for the urea and formaldehyde that are typically used in MDF.
The new creation is thanks to research from the University of Leicester. The researchers behind the new resin think that the development of the new recyclable MDF will help to reduce the enormous waste that typically accompanies the use of MDF — as it stands now, most of the huge quantities of MDF produced annually in the UK ends up in the incinerator or the landfill within a year or two, as it cannot be recycled.
Given that most MDF in the UK is used primarily for short-term applications in the retail sector, the development of an MDF-substitute that can actually be recycled could do a great deal to help reduce the quantity of waste produced by the retail sector, according to the researchers.
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MDF is made by breaking down bits of wood into wood fibres, which are then pressurized and stuck together with resin and wax. The resin is currently composed of urea and formaldehyde (UF), the use of which is restricted due to health concerns. Professor Abbott’s new resin means that the use of UF is avoided and therefore so too are the associated concerns.
With the aid of colleagues at the Biocomposites Centre, Bangor University and the Leicestershire-based retail design company Sheridan and Co, his team have produced starch-based boards which have been made into retail display units. Professor Abbott’s new material is easier to manufacture and easier to work with than current MDF boards.
The experimental part of the research was led by Dr Will Wise, who stated: “It has been a technological challenge to develop material with the correct properties, but it is a great thrill to see the finished boards which look identical to the MDF which is so commonly used.”
The new material is easier to manufacture than existing MDF as the components are easily pre-mixed and only set on the application of heat and pressure; end user feedback suggests it is also easier to work with than currently available MDF boards.
The researchers recently won the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation for the new recyclable MDF, after receiving the award, Professor Abbott stated: “The Brian Mercer Award is fundamental in enabling us to take this project forward to the next stage; it means we can now scale up our process from laboratory to the full scale manufacture of a product that I hope will revolutionize industries dependent on MDF and provide them with a more environmentally-friendly alternative.”
In total, the award will provide the researchers with about £172,347 — nearly all of which will be used “to create a supply chain to create prototypes for the point-of-sale market.”
The research team is also currently in the process of developing new fillers for plastics based on orange and banana peels and eggshells.