ARCHIVED - "Green" composites move to market

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August 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

A British Columbia start-up company is marketing a versatile line of biocomposite materials to manufacturers worldwide, thanks to research conducted by NRC.

With help from the NRC Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI) in Boucherville, Quebec, JER Envirotech of Delta, B.C. has developed wood-plastic composite (WPC) materials that combine organic fibres from agriculture and forestry waste with new or recycled polymers, such as polyethylene or polypropylene. The result is a "green alternative" that offers the best characteristics of both wood and plastic — better rot-resistance and higher stiffness.

JER Envirotech CEO Edward Trueman holds WPC pellets.
JER Envirotech CEO Edward Trueman holds WPC pellets.

JER's biocomposites are sold in pellet form for use in injection moulding and plastic extrusion. "We sell WPC pellets as a raw material to plastic processors, who turn them into commercial products," explains Peter Kelly, Chief Technology Officer for JER Envirotech. "We also produce WPC sheeting for use in many applications such as building materials, flooring and signage."

JER's customers currently include Centoco, a Windsor, Ontario-based injection moulder of plumbing products; and Sprig Toys of Colorado. "We have potential clients in Scandinavia, South America and the UK," adds Kelly.

Kelly credits NRC for the company's success. "We are basically in business because NRC patented a WPC formula and licensed it to us," he says. "And as JER Envirotetch grew, we used NRC's labs in Boucherville to test our products."

The WPC patent grew out of a cooperation agreement between NRC and a Singapore research institute almost a decade ago. "We investigated new ways of combining polymers with biomass, wood residue or other sources of organic fibre," says Blaise Labrecque, strategic advisor for NRC-IMI. "Our challenge was to mix a thermoplastic polymer — one which 'melts' when you heat it — with wood sawdust or rice husk as the fibre reinforcement."

NRC licensed its technology to JER Envirotech in 2003. The firm's original vision was to distribute its products around the world by setting up production plants close to sources of recycled plastic and organic fibre materials. After building its facility in British Columbia, JER targeted Asian countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines to open up additional production plants, "where rice husks are cheap and readily available," notes Labrecque.

The company's current business plan is focused on the burgeoning North American market with special emphasis on injection-moulded products. "Offering moulding grades of wood polymers that can be run on existing equipment opens up an extraordinary number of applications and opportunities," says Bill Hunnicutt, JER Envirotech's Vice President of Global Sales.

Today, JER Envirotech is getting enquiries from all over the world. "So we may license our process to third parties in other countries," comments Kelly. "And NRC is actively registering its patent in Europe, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world."

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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