Knowledge Based Bio-Economy


Polymers and composites from Forest resources

Project Acronym: FORBIOPLAST

Title of project: Forest resource sustainability through bio-based-composite development

Research area: Biotechnologies (Forest products - new forest based products and processes)

Contract No : 212239

EU Contribution: 4317 000 EURO

Start date: July 2008

Duration: 48 Months


The forest biomass represents an abundant, renewable and low cost resource that does not compete with food production. It can provide materials that can substitute for materials that are currently derived from petrochemicals. However, in spite of extensive work and some small commercial success, in general industrial production and marketing of materials derived from renewable resources remain small. This reflects both high processing costs, raising the market price of the products and poor properties of final products that are usually targeted to single use sectors currently using conventional low costs polymer. This project aims to investigate use of forest raw resources or by-products of forest related industry for the production of eco-compatible foams and composites suitable for many practical applications. It will include a focus on the use of wood and paper mill by-products (bark, chips, sawdust, and black liquor) as raw materials for the production of polyurethane foams using an innovative sustainable synthetic process with reduced energy consumption.

Wood fibres can be used as natural fillers to replace synthetic materials and glass fibres in composites production. However, the loading of wood fibres is limited by incompatibility with hydrophobic polymers. Ways of overcoming this will be investigated. The materials produced will be valuated by life cycle assessments and final products will be tested for biodegradation and in composting systems. Composites will be evaluated for applications in agriculture, packaging and the automotive industry (textiles, panels, interior components). The research programme will be developed in close cooperation with industries with particular reference to the potential end users.

Expected Impact

Results from this project should help develop new markets for the forest industry and offer consumers alternatives to petrochemical based products. It will enable consumers to choose biodegradable products offering better disposal options in line with EU legislation on packaging materials, recycling and disposal (Directive 94/62/EC). This Directive and subsequent amendments aims to harmonise national measures to prevent or reduce the impact of packaging on the environment. Its importance reflects the fact that up to 50 percent of plastics produced are used for packaging. Consequently there is an increasing pressure on the packaging industry to develop environmentally sustainable materials. The project can also impact on the market for disposable products that has shown significant growth in the use of vegetal-derived materials such as wood flour, plant fibres and reprocessed cotton in their manufacture. The impact will reflect factors such as weight reduction and recyclability in the vegetal-based composites. These properties are important in the automotive industry where the ease of disposal of old vehicles is enhanced through use of such materials in interior parts for example.

On the technical side the development of lignin-based material will impact on the requirement to produce freon-free polyurethane and polyurethane-polyureic foams. The adoption of these products will also reduce concerns about global warming since the production and use of forest biomass is neutral in terms of greenhouse gas production while the expansion of plantation forestry has a positive effect on greenhouse gas reduction through increasing the area of forests serving as a carbon sink. The industrial impact of the project will be enhanced by creation of an Industrial Advisory Board (IAB), comprising representatives of large multinational companies as well as small and medium companies involved in the production of biopolymers. This will provide guidance and feedback to the project to ensure that the work is focused on actions that are relevant to the needs of European industry and help identify how the results can be successfully applied in a number of other applications.

Expected Results

The project should result in an increased use of wood derived fibres to replace glass and mineral fillers in various products such as automotive parts as well being a component in composites materials based on biodegradable polymeric matrices. These will have applications in packaging (cardboard, containers, etc) and the agriculture sector replacing plastic flower pots for example. The composites will be based on wood fibres contained in a matrix of biodegradable polymers such as polylactic acid, polycaprolactone, polyhydroxyalkanoates or Mater-bi ® (an existing starch based product) or with polypropylene. A high fibres loading content will be achieved by increasing the strength of the polymeric matrices. Such use has been restricted in some cases due to lack of compatibility between the fibre and the matrix material. Various fungi and enzymes will be investigated for wood fibres modification in order to increase compatability

Mechanical properties of composites can be improved by addition of natural rubber and of small amount of nanoclays. Various types of composites products will be produced based the preparation of various amorphous and crystalline polymers with nanosized CaCO3 and submicron BaSO4 particles surface treated with stearic acid and other commercially available surfactants. The elimination of agglomerates will hopefully be achieved by careful choice of the surfactant. It is expected that the very small particles will be extremely effective in toughening the end-products. It is anticipated that blending and/or compounding with fillers and other processing aids will confer particular performance characterisitics to the polyurethanes and biocomposites. For example materials developed for automotive applications will be loaded with inorganic nanoparticles to acquire functional properties such as noise reduction (barite), flame retardant (monmorillonite MMT) and improved toughness (elastomers, nanoclays). Materials developed for applications in agriculture will be enriched with active substances (fertilizers, etc), and the active components in materials with intended application in packaging will be selected in view of the final specific use (food packaging, goods packaging) of the material.


Coordinator: Andrea Lazzeri,

Organisation: Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Pisa, Italy,


Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary,

Latvian State Institute of Wood Chemistry, Latvia,

University of Almeria, Spain,

Cartif Foundation, Spain,

University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest, Romania

PEMU Plastic Processing, Hungary,

Fiat Research Centre, Italy,

Organic Waste Systems, Belgium,

Rodax Impex, Romania,

Ritols, Latvia,

Incerplast, Romania,

Wiedemann, Germany,

Norconserv, Norway,

Neochimiki, Greece

Cosmetic, Greece,