Ikea Industry moves forward with sustainable fibreboard project

Wood fibre boards are hugely useful, but also controversial due to their fossil-based components. Following a successful BioInnovation project, Ikea Industry and other project partners are now testing the replacement of the fossil-based wax found in HDF board with a tall oil-based solution. The results indicate a similar quality, as well as lower climate impact.

Thomas Walther, adjunct professor at Linneaus Universitetet. Photo: Johannes Rydström.

To increase the lifespan of furniture, a water-repellent paraffin wax is used to make the wood fibreboard frame. The wax is typically poor quality and is fossil-based. A BioInnovation project has developed a bio-based solution of higher quality, made from the residues of the tall oil refining process. The project, led by Linnaeus University, is based on a new value chain with SunPine as the supplier of raw material. The chemical company Lawter processes the raw material into an industrially useful product, and Ikea Industry then produces the wood fibre board.

 “We need to change everywhere we possibly can”

After successful project results, the companies have decided to go ahead with industrial trials. Initial tests show that the tall oil-based solution can completely replace paraffin wax, without the need for any machine adaptations. A life cycle analysis will now be carried out by an external actor.

– At this stage, all the indications show the bio-based solution performs better from a sustainability perspective – but we need to get that in black and white. With Ikea’s tough sustainability targets, we need to change wherever we possibly can, says Thomas Walther, Matrix leader sustainable adhesives and adjunct professor at Linnaeus University, and the person leading the development work at Ikea Industry.

John Hazen, Lawter.

John Hazen, Global R&D Manager at Lawter:

– As it stands today, we not only have a more sustainable raw material but also a process that requires lower temperatures and lower energy consumption, as compared to the equivalent process used to produce the fossil-based solution.

The project is important in finding new markets

Initially, the paraffin wax in Ikea’s HDF board will be replaced. Ikea Industry produces a quarter of the HDF board Ikea needs annually, which would require a total of about 10,000 tonnes of the tall oil-based solution.

Valeri Naydenov, SunPine. Photo: SunPine.

– We have the capacity to meet this demand, says Valeri Naydenov, SunPine’s Development Manager. With our relatively small development department, research projects like these are important for us in finding new markets. We have been working with actors right across the value chain, from early testing to scale-up.

Whether the tall oil-based solution holds up in terms of costs remains to be seen. It seems likely to be little more expensive but it also goes further, which would balance the costs.

– The project also demonstrates a potential new area; using the same residual product to replace the large amounts of fossil-based glue found in wood fibre board. Much remains to be explored and more tests will follow, concludes Thomas Walther.

According to Prof. Stergios Adamopoulos, SLU (Swedish University of Agrcultural Sciences);
– It is exciting to see how a risky idea at the laboratory can become industrial reality. Tall oil is a useful sustainable feedstock to accommodate interesting chemistries and applications.

Read more about the project Tall-oil based hydrophobing formulations for industrial fibreboards – step 2.