For the first time, panels for high-quality applications in interiors have been launched in which 50% phenol has been replaced by the natural adhesive lignin. This is the result of eight-year long partnership by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research and NEMHO, the R&D department for Dutch producer Trespa International B.V, Italian sister company Arpa Industriale and other material technology companies of Broadview Holding.
Arpa Industriale launched Bloom, a new core technology for Arpa HPL and FENIX NTM® product lines, in May 2019 during the Interzum fair. These new materials have a significantly reduced ecological footprint.
Arpa HPL and FENIX NTM panels are made of paper and thermosetting resins based on phenol. Thermal pressure creates a durable structure that makes the material suitable for interior applications. For years, phenol has been used in these thermosetting resins. Although this substance is not on the EU list of substances of very high concern, it is extremely toxic. NEMHO and Wageningen Food & Biobased Research work together to develop an alternative resin based on lignin technology. The natural adhesive lignin is found in woody crops and is abundant in nature.
With Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, NEMHO tested types of lignin that could be suitable and conducted pilot tests of the resin in their laboratories.
Lignin from kraft process
“In the new production process, we make optimal use of the intrinsic binding properties of lignin,” says Richard Gosselink, lignin expert at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “If you want to use lignin on a large scale, you need sufficient raw materials. That is why we opted for lignin as a side stream that is released during the Kraft process, the most important pulp process to produce cellulose for paper. In this process, wood is processed into wood pulp. We then investigated how the lignin behaves in the synthesis of the lignin-based resin and gluing process. It soon became clear that you cannot simply use lignin in the existing process; this requires adjustments. In the end, we spent eight years resulting in replacing 50% phenol in a breakthrough: the production process with lignin. It illustrates the value of continuing to invest in research and development.”
“Sustainability gains are enormous”
The breakthrough is very important to NEMHO and the companies of the group, says Pieter Peters, R&D Director at NEMHO. “Eight years ago, we entered into a partnership with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, because we wanted to reduce our ecological footprint and increase the amount of natural raw materials we use. This is in line with the needs of our customers. We are very proud that after long persistence we succeeded in developing a product reducing the amount of phenol included in the resin by 50% without compromising the quality and performance of the products.”
NEMHO also collaborated with VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland), the Helsinki University and UPM Oy to come to a commercially viable product.
On the way to 100% replacement
The ambition of both parties is to be able to, eventually, completely replace phenol with lignin in the thermosetting resin, says Gosselink. “We recently launched a call for a new research program to increase the replacement rate step by step. I expect that industry will join us: phenol is a substance that the industry wants to get rid of as soon as possible.”