Engineered Woods

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New processes make for more choices than ever

Kirei's Coco Tiles

Engineered woods are made from waste products, recycled products, and products that can be grown almost anywhere in the world, which means that no matter where you are, you can find an engineered wood that is made locally.

These woods are a good environmental choice if you don’t want to use reclaimed or recycled wood. They are being manufactured from materials like wheat and straw, paper/soy, newsprint and sunflower seeds. Here’s a look at some of these new products.

Wheatboard (Strawboard)

Kitchen cabinets made from wheatboard by Alliance to Save Energy.

Wheatboard, also called strawboard, is emerging as great alternative to traditional medium density particle board.

Since wheat grain is grown globally, local production of wheatboard is possible. Straw is a byproduct of the harvesting process for barley and wheat, and American farmers who supply our country’s massive cereal industry produce an estimated 150 million tons of straw each year. Usually, the straw is burned, but new markets for wheatboard are giving farmers a second income.

Bales of straw waste are finely ground, sorted and dried, bound with a resin, compressed into sheets, sanded, and cut to size. Along with the resin that occurs naturally when the straw is under pressure, a high performance polyurethane resin bonds the straw into a hard, wood-like material. That makes the wheatboard a low-VOC (volatile organic compound) product compared to the formaldehyde-emitting traditional particle board.

A house built with structural fiberboard panels requires 85% less timber than a conventional wood-frame house. And since it provides superior moisture resistance, cabinets made with wheatboard can be a wise choice in humid environments like bathrooms and kitchens.

When shopping for green particle board alternatives, look for wood that uses low-emitting or formaldehyde-free binders. California’s new formaldehyde-reduction standards for composite wood products went into effect in 2009, and all products imported into California have to comply with them. With even more regulations about formaldehyde on the horizon, products like wheatboard and strawboard are starting to take off.

Advantages of wheatboard/strawboard

  • Inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Good insulator
  • Better moisture resistance than wood fiber particleboard
  • Zero formaldehyde
  • Lighter weight equals less energy used to transport
  • Lower emissions during production
  • Readily available wherever wheat crops are farmed

Uses of wheatboard/strawboard

  • Non-structural panels for walls and ceilings
  • Doors
  • Furniture
  • Cabinetry
  • Floor underlay
  • Trim
  • Structural insulating panels

Kirei Board

Bathroom backsplash using Kirei Board.

Like straw, the stalks left over from processing sugar cane and sorghum, known as begasse, have traditionally been burned. The stalks are reclaimed from sorghum plants that are grown for food in northern China, and selling them to strawboard manufacturers provides a second source of income for farmers.

Since 1995 the rapidly renewable material, which is grown in a yearly harvest cycle, has been made into Kirei Board. The begasse are tightly woven and then heat-pressed with poplar wood and KR Bond, a water-based polymer-isocyanate adhesive that emits no formaldehyde. It’s best used in wall coverings, ceilings, cabinetry, furniture, and retail displays. Since it’s fairly soft, if it’s used for flooring it should be only in light traffic areas.

Kirei also produces wheatboard and Coco Tiles from reclaimed coconut shells.


Dakota Burl®

Another product is Dakota Burl®, made from another agricultural waste product, sunflower hulls. It’s considered an alternative to hardwood and looks like traditional burled wood.

It can be stained to look like various conventional woods and cuts, sands and routes with standard woodworking tools. It’s not recommended for kitchen or bath countertop applications, but on tables surfaces, in cabinetry, furniture and architectural applications it’s an elegant alternative to traditional wood.

Environ biocomposite® is made from recycled newsprint, a soy-based resin, and color additives. It’s sold in sheet stock in several thicknesses and is available in various colors for interior decoration.

Recycled Newsprint

Two of the colors of Environ biocomposite's® panels made from recycled newsprint and a soy-based resin.

Panels made from 100% post-consumer recycled newsprint, like Homasote, can be used for walls and other set elements. It’s weather-resistant, structural, insulating, and extremely durable. The Homasote panels have two to three times the strength of typical light-density wood fiber boards.

Posted by on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010. Filed under Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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