Trifilon’s second generation biocomposites

Trifilon's David Sandqusit_Martin Lidstrand_Jeremiah Dutton.jpg

The Swedish biocomposite maker Trifilon announced it will soon begin commercial operation of a new plant in Nyköping meaning many consumer products with molded plastic components may soon contain industrial hemp. The young company uses fibers from the plant to reinforce what it calls a “second generation biocomposite” in which the plant ingredients actually improve the performance of the plastics.

Biocomposite designates a large family of materials that range from wood-powder composites (WPC) to flax or jute-reinforced plastics, essentially any composite material with a biological ingredient. That wide definition means the term also designates a spectrum of costs and mechanical properties. Technologies that repurpose certain industry byproducts – as for example sawdust or wood powder from forestry businesses – have been around for decades. The biological components of those mixes are typically used in place of plastics because they are cheaper. But Trifilon has sought to distinguish its first commercial offering, BioLite – a mix of polypropylene and hemp fibers in different weight proportions – from older biocomposite technologies because the hemp makes the end material a better option for many applications, especially where plastics reinforced with glass fiber are used.

“We began with performance and sustainability in mind, not cost or marketing. We asked: What are the best natural ingredients for making new, high-performance materials? And when we asked that question we didn’t have to answer wood pulp. We’re not beholden to any industry,” said Martin Lidstrand, CEO of Trifilon.

The company says the ecological merits associated with their materials can obtain a much larger scale because the materials themselves are useful in a greater range of applications. While WPCs, for example, are used widely in decking, their ecological merits are constrained to that application, which can tolerate the low strength, increased weight, and high brittleness of the material.

“First generation biocomposites were great for their era considering cost, the upcycling of a waste stream, and the impact on CO2 footprint. But their recipes greatly limit their mechanical properties in part because the cellulosic components are not optimally bound to other components in the composite,” said David Sandquist, the company’s new Chief Research Officer. “Trifilon studied the interactions between hemp fibers and the polymer molecules. And the company developed smart ways to optimize those bonds.”

Sandquist said the new production line has benefited from insights from textile industries, and the company uses proprietary techniques to cut and process the hemp fibers in order to optimize it for reinforcement. The new commercial plant will have a yearly operating capacity of 4,000 tonnes of BioLIte, which is delivered granulates to manufacturers that use injection molding machines. The company has interest from industries as diverse as packaging, toys, furniture, automotive, and electrical.

“With the new plant we can now fine-tune materials, not only for mechanical needs and production requirements, but also for aesthetics, colors and haptics. Our clients appreciate that flexibility,” says Jeremiah Dutton, Chief Sales Officer. “We can tell clients that they can still make quality products but that they’re starting to work with sustainable materials. It’s an easy and meaningful first step, not just a gesture. And they can start using our material next quarter.”

The company’s technology has helped it attract new personnel, as with Sanquist who arrived from the prestigious VTT Research Centre in Finland. It has also prompted R&D collaborations. Trifilon recently announced a project with another Swedish materials company, RenCom, which uses the lignin byproducts from forestry industries to form plastic resins. The company says the partnership has produced a prototype, hemp-based biocomposite with all its primary ingredients derived from biological sources. The company plans to show off the new material at the Plastteknik Nordic tradeshow in Malmö this May.

“That would be the third generation,” said CEO Lidstrand.



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