Forestry products producer Weyerhaeuser in Federal Way, Wash., has introduced a proprietary, patent-pending thermoplastic composite with cellulose-fiber reinforcement derived from wood. The company is working with Ford Motor Co.’s biomaterials research team to examine automotive applications where plastic composites made with cellulose fibers can replace thermoplastics with fiberglass or mineral reinforcements.
The composite is one of a new family of composites to be sold by Weyerhaeuser under the brand name Thrive. The base polymer is a 35 MFI PP reinforced with 20% to 40% specially engineered cellulose fibers plus small amounts of coupling additives. Available in natural or black (using recycled PP), Thrive is also offered as a 70%-fiber masterbatch.
Weyerhaeuser can customize Thrive composites for a range of customer requirements for both automotive parts and household goods. Weyerhaeuser plans to develop composites with other plastics such as ABS, LL/LDPE, HDPE, PVC, PLA, and other bio-derived polymers.
Meanwhile, Ford’s biomaterials research team has found that Weyerhaeuser’s cellulose/plastic composites meet the car company’s requirements for stiffness, durability, and temperature resistance. In addition, components weigh about 10% less than glass-reinforced plastics and can be produced 20-40% more quickly and with less energy. These weight and process savings can enable equivalent or reduced component costs, according to Ford. The three-year collaboration resulted in the production of several prototype vehicle components, which were put through a battery of tests. In Armrests that appear to be one promising interior application for these materials, according to Ford plastics researcher Dr. Ellen Lee, and they are also good candidates for exterior and under-hood parts.