Over 270 participants from 25 countries and 30 exhibitors attended Nova-Institute’s fifth German WPC Congress from December 10 to 11, 2013 in Cologne, Germany. At a special ceremony during the evening gala buffet dinner the WPC Innovation Prize was awarded.
After a few words of introduction from Michael Carus, Managing Director of Nova-Institute, and Dr Peter Sauerwein from the Association of the German Wood-based Panel Industries (VHI), the Managing Director of WPC manufacturer Novo-Tech from Aschersleben, Germany, Holger Sasse, took a critical look back over the last few years of WPC development in Germany and Europe, as well as assessing the future development prospects of WPCs.
Dr Asta Eder of Asta Eder Composite Consulting, Austria/Finland and Michael Carus presented their new joint study “Wood-Plastic Composites (WPC) and Natural Fibre Composites (NFC): European and Global Markets 2012 and Future Trends” to the public for the first time.
According to their market research, worldwide WPC production will rise from 2.43 million tonnes in 2012 to 3.83 million tonnes in 2015. The study says that although North America is still the world’s leading producer with 1.1 million tonnes, ahead of China (900,000t) and Europe (260,000t), it is expected that China (1.8 million tonnes by then) will have overtaken North America (1.4 million tonnes) by 2015. The market research forecasts that European production will grow by around 10% per year, reaching 350,000t in 2015.
The main fields of application for WPCs worldwide are the construction industry – especially decking, fences and façade elements – and the automotive industry with WPC interior components.
One particularly dynamic sector at the moment is WPC granulates for use in injection moulding to make a wide range of different finished products (furniture, casings for household appliances, technical parts) as well as in automobile interiors. Several major cellulose and paper companies such as UPM, Finland, Mondi, Great Britain/South Africa and Weyerhaeuser, USA brought competitively priced WPC granulates to market in 2013. The next few years will show whether these new materials will survive on the market and whether the WPC injection moulding will really come to life.
For the first time, the conference was presented with comprehensive life-cycle assessments carried out by the German Plastics Centre (SKZ) and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) comparing WPC decking with other materials. Cassandra Derreza-Greeven from IFEU gave the following summary of the findings: Thermowood made from home-grown timber came first, followed by German hardwood. Decking made of indigenous softwoods and WPC came out roughly equal, whereas tropical wood comes out of the life-cycle assessment worst. Although WPC score worse than home-grown timber for greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative energy consumption, it does well for land use and eutrophication. Yet the durability of the various materials is a key factor – and there has been too little experience to date for any conclusions to be drawn.
Although there has not yet been sufficient research into this, discussions revealed that WPC scores well in just about every category as a substitute for plastics. In a nutshell, this means that WPC is more environmentally friendly than fossil-fuel-based plastics and tropical hardwoods, but finds it hard to pick up points against home-grown timber.
In a special session Dr Hans Korte of Innovationsberatung Holz & Fasern gave an overview of the current findings of the “Comparison of 13 different compounding technologies for WPC” research project. Together with the Institute for Polymer Technologies (IPT) and the Thünen Institute for Wood Research (TI), they tested the main plant designs for manufacturing WPC granulates that are available on the market. The study’s findings give plant manufacturers detailed guidance on how to optimise their technology, while providing users with tips on choosing the right compound method.
WPC Innovation Award winners
One of the event’s highlights was the choice of the WPC Innovation Award winner. Nearly 20 products from ten countries were entered into the competition. They were tested and evaluated by a jury of WPC experts. The advisory committee considered six of them particularly innovative and nominated them for the Innovation Award. The relevant companies presented their new WPC products to an audience of professionals on the first day of the conference. The 270 participants at the Fifth German WPC Conference selected the winners of the 2013 WPC Innovation Award from among these six nominees. Renolit, Germany, KET, China und Langmatz, Germany were honoured with an Innovation Award.
Renolit Gorcell is a thermoplastic lightweight panel with a honeycomb structure and with WPC sheets on the top and the bottom, which give an aesthetic and natural character to the panel in addition to having high stability and stiffness. Further strengths are resource and energy efficiency due to the continuous inline-process in manufacture of the panels. Good thermoformability, easy processability, resistance against water and various chemicals as well as a 100% recyclability are additional advantages of this new kind of WPC lightweight board.
The new WPC window system Ecolife, said to offer an eco-friendly alternative to PVC- and aluminium-windows, is made of wood fibres and recycled plastic. The novel combination of a coextruded WPC-profile with a weather-resistant bonding (laminate) of a thin and coloured aluminium band protects the profile from sunlight and rain. The WPC window profile is said to meet all complex technical demands worldwide for the first time. It was certified by the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in 2012. Market launch of the window will take place in 2014, first in China, then worldwide.
The new structural foamed WPC for modular cable manholes is said to significantly reduce both the cycle times of production as well as the transport weight and to offer easy assembly. Both partners worked together in order to develop a new WPC material that consists to a large extent of renewable resources (45% wood) and is suitable for the injection moulding of complex, foamed cable manholes with a lower density than the plastic alternatives.
After the award ceremony and in the course of the gala buffet dinner Jukka-Pekka Karppinen of Flaxwood, Finland, introduced his WPC guitars. These instruments are injection moulded in special WPC and, in terms of sound quality are said to be more than a match for guitars made of tropical timber – unlike them they do not need to be tuned when the temperature changes. A local studio musician entertained the audience with three rock music pieces on different WPC guitars.