Scientists in the UK have developed a sustainable alternative to medium density fibreboard.

By Cameron Jewell

4 November 2013 — Scientists have created a biodegradable, recyclable form of medium density fibreboard, which could mean greener fitouts for offices.

MDF is a cheap, popular engineered wood product widely used in offices. It is made by breaking down bits of wood into wood fibres, which are then pressurised and stuck together with resin and wax. The resin is currently composed of urea and formaldehyde, the use of which is restricted due to health concerns.

A team from the University of Leicester in the UK has created a new wood-based product similar to MDF that uses a resin based on starches from natural sources, including potatoes, leading to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable product.

While MDF is made from waste wood, it is currently unrecyclable, leading to waste product being incinerated or being sent to landfill. The new invention is recyclable and compostable, which could allow for a great reduction of waste. Close to one million tonnes of MDF is made a year in the UK, so the potential for waste reduction is large.

The researchers say 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.

Dr Will Wise, who led the practical studies, said: “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.”

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Abbott was awarded the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2013 for the invention, which will enable the product to go from prototype to manufacture. The award is a scheme for scientists who wish to develop an already proven concept or prototype into a near-market product ready for commercial exploitation.

Professor Abbott said the award meant the team could “now scale up our process from laboratory to the full scale manufacture of a product that I hope will revolutionise industries dependent on MDF and provide them with a more environmentally-friendly alternative”.

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