Roll of the dice could make wood fibre a winner

A breakthrough technology in fibre processing, combined with an exciting new business partnership, is creating global opportunities for using long wood fibres in plastic products.

Scion has negotiated a licensing agreement with Sonae Indústria Group for the manufacture and sale of wood fibre “dice” that has the potential to be much more revolutionary than its humble appearance would suggest.

A major advantage of the wood fibre dice over agricultural fibres such as hemp, flax, and sisal is that they do what dice do best. They roll, behaving just like plastic pellets, when fed into processing machinery. This ease of handling means the dice can be fed directly into conventional extruders, then the compound can go into injection moulders for processing as fibre-reinforced plastics.

Sonae Indústria’s Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, Christophe Chambonnet, sees the commercial decision by the multinational giant as an exciting prospect.

“I have no doubt that we are creating a new perspective on the use of renewable wood fibre,” he says. “Scion is clearly a leader in research involving sustainably-derived bioproducts. Together with our expertise in both wood processing and commercialisation, we make a unique and powerful team.”

Recognised as an innovation leader, Sonae Indústria is one of the largest global manufacturers of wood products, with 27 production sites in seven countries producing 10 million tons of products annually. The recently signed deal gives them an exclusive licence to commercialise the technology in Europe and create whole new markets for sustainably-produced wood fibres.

The main advantage of the wood fibre dice is the strength they give to traditional polymers via a highly consistent and cost effective route. So much so, that Sonae Indústria has named the technology’s product ‘WoodForce’. The new product will be marketed to wood plastic composite manufacturers and compounders. Applications are wide-ranging and could include decking, fencing, pallets, furniture, automotive parts, appliance housings, computer peripherals and many common applications for plastics and fibreglass reinforced products.

“Wood fibre is a superior option with clear advantages over agricultural or glass fibres, so we will be working hard to promote the benefits of this product,” Christophe says.

“We welcome this as a significant opportunity to redefine our business and expand our horizons. We reached an agreement with Scion to make WoodForce a unique global brand as the main compounders cover a large geographic area.”

While the first commercial applications of the technology are likely to appear in Europe, the intellectual property is retained in New Zealand with Scion having filed international patent applications for the technology.

Scion Chief Executive Dr Warren Parker says the licence deal is likely to return royalties exceeding $10 million over the next decade, if Sonae Indústria and the technology are successful in the market.

“Once the technology is de-risked in Europe we believe there will be opportunities for New Zealand manufacturers to enter new markets within our region, using established plant and equipment,” Warren says.

With the advantage of being simple and relatively low cost, this technology is now poised to catch the global wave of plastic composite manufacturing that is predicted to roll in.

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