Wood Plastic Composites made from Modified Wood : Aspects on Moisture Sorption, Micromorphology and Durability

Abstract: Wood plastic composite (WPC) materials have seen a continuous market growth worldwide in the last decade. So-called extruded WPC profiles are today mainly used in outdoor applications, e.g. decking, railing and fencing. In outdoor conditions, moisture sorption in the wood component combined with temperature induced movements of the polymer matrix causes deformations of such composites. On the macroscopic scale this may lead to unacceptable warp, cup and bow of the WPC products, but on a microscopic scale, the movements will cause interfacial cracks between the particles and the matrix, resulting in little or no ability to transfer and re-distribute loads throughout the material. Moisture within the composite will also allow fungi and micro organisms to attack the wood particles. The conceptual idea of this work is to use a chemically modified wood component in WPCs to enhance their long term performance. These chemically modified wood particles exhibit reduced susceptibility to moisture, resulting in better dimensional stability and a higher resistance to biological degradation as compared to that of unmodified wood. The objective of this thesis is to study the effects of using modified wood in WPCs on their moisture sorption behaviour, micromorphology and microbiological durability. The modification methods used were acetylation, heat treatment and furfurylation. Equilibrium moisture content (EMC) and sorption behaviour of WPCs were determined by water vapour sorption experiments. The use of thin sections of the composites enabled EMC to be reached within a comparably short time span. The micromorphology was studied by LV-SEM (low vacuum-scanning electron microscope) using a specially designed sample preparation technique based on UV laser. The biological durability was evaluated by laboratory fungal test methods. The moisture sorption experiments showed lower moisture levels for all the composites when modified wood particles were used. This was also reflected in the micromorphological studies where pronounced wood-plastic interfacial cracks were formed due to moisture movement in the composites with unmodified wood particles. The sample preparation technique by UV laser proved to be a powerful tool for preparing surfaces for micromorphological studies without adding mechanical defects caused by the sample preparation technique itself. Results from the durability test showed that WPCs with modified wood particles are highly resistant to decay by fungi.