A new method of producing wood-plastic pellets has been licensed by Crown research institute Scion to a company that will see it applied in Europe to the tune of $10 million in royalties.
Scion says its technology has the potential to transform the composition of plastics worldwide, and its agreement with Sonae Indústria Group gives the group an exclusive licence to manufacture and commercialise the technology in Europe.
However, the intellectual property will be retained in New Zealand, with Scion having filed international patent applications for the technology.
Scion chief executive Dr Warren Parker says the licensing deal is likely to return royalties exceeding $10 million over the next decade.
“And that’s just the start, with the rapidly expanding global market for natural fibre plastic composites.”
Jeremy Warnes, science leader at Scion, says it recognised the growth in commercial application of natural fibre-reinforced plastics and saw an opportunity for wood fibres, which have been very difficult to process with plastics.
“Agricultural fibres such as hemp, flax, and sisal are used as reinforcing fibres but have disadvantages such as seasonality in supply, variable quality, and specialist processing equipment is needed to convert the fibres into a form that can be processed by plastics manufacturers,” Warnes says.
A New Zealand-based research organisation, Scion developed and patented the technology under its bio-fibre research programme funded by the former Foundation of Research Science and Technology (now Ministry of Science and Innovation).
The process enables the manufacturing of wood plastic composites with long wood fibre reinforcement. Applications for the technology include decking, fencing, pallets, furniture, automotive parts, appliance housings, computer peripherals and many common applications for plastics and fibreglass products.
"What's also exciting is the fact that the technology can easily fit into existing manufacturing and processing chains. The wood fibre-rich dice will be sold to wood plastic composite manufacturers and compounders," says Parker.
Christophe Chambonnet, Sonae's chief marketing and sales officer, says it has been interested in the technology for a few years.
Ssuccessful trials with plastic processing operations have given it the confidence to introduce the new material to Europe, he says.
"As one of the world leaders in wood technology, with over 10 million tons of wood processed annually, Sonae Industria needs to have an important role in the future of the wood sector. I have no doubt that we are creating a new future by mixing wood fibres with thermoplastic polymers and a new perspective on the use of the wood fibre."
He says the main advantage of the new wood plastic pellets is the strength they give to traditional polymers, which Sonae has named "WoodForce".
In addition to the licensing deal for Europe, Sonae Indústria has the right to negotiate with Scion for other regions except for Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.