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Building Systems – New Bio-Materials

Examples of materials and attributes available from current and emerging bio-products include:

Bio-reinforced composites: New emerging bio-products from renewable forest resources include fibre-based composites (fibres compounded in polymers, cement, gypsum) and other cellulose based composites and materials.  For example GreenCore Composites (Toronto) has new developments underway to allow wood fibre to be used in a number of new products for packaging and automotive applications. In many cases cellulose-reinforced composites have higher strength-to-weight ratio than comparable composites – such as polymer composites reinforced with glass fibres.  An example of an existing bio-reinforced composite is fibre cement siding reinforced with softwood kraft pulp. Next generation siding may be reinforced with new cellulosic biomaterials or carbon fibres manufactured from lignin.

Bio-based plastics can be derived from renewable biomass (sugars or potentially cellulose) unlike traditional plastic, which is made from petroleum.  Sustainability is important to bioplastic producers. Bioplastics can directly replace or be blended with traditional plastics, in applications such as packaging.  In building construction, plastics are used in plumbing, siding, flooring, insulation, panels, doors, windows, and interior uses. An example of a bio-based plastic is polyethylene produced by Braskem from sugar cane ethanol. Polylactic Acid (PLA) is another important bioplastic used in packaging and other applications.

Resins and binders: Lignin, the organic substance that holds together the individual fibres of wood, is a complex polymer with a wide range of potential applications.  It has adhesive, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and hydrophobic properties.  It can be used in resins for gluing wood-based laminates, such as kitchen countertops and other decorative applications, and in phenol-formaldehyde resins in the manufacture of plywood and other types of composite wood panels. Research is also underway to produce carbon fibres from lignin.

Advanced bio-materials: Emerging materials may incorporate nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), an advanced, crystalline material extracted from wood fibres that improves the strength, durability and toughness of products such as polymer composites.   It can reduce damage caused by wear, abrasion and light.  It also has unique optical properties and can generate spectacular iridescent colors for application in coatings, paint additives and specialty packaging.  NCC is natural, renewable, recyclable, non-toxic, compostable and bio-degradable.  Other nano and micro-scale cellulose-based materials are being developed around the world, offering a range of possibilities for imparting reinforcement and barrier properties to products.

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