Faculty of
Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology

Dr Luigi Vandi and Dr Clement Chan pioneered the development of a biobased and biodegradable wood plastic composite, comprised of polyhydroxylkanoates (PHAs) generated from pulp and paper waste.

These high-performance wood paper composites have improved melt flow, leading to better binding, and utilise PHA-rich biomass, which avoids the cost and environmental burden of polymer extraction. Unlike standard wood plastic composites, these PHA wood plastic composites have a suitable disposal at the end of their life, due to their biodegradability.

Applications for the biobased and biodegradable wood plastic composite include decking, fencing and interior furnishings, with forecast to be $5.4 billion per annum in the US alone (2015). The development of this material has led to new products and markets for the Australian forestry industry. 

There is significant opportunity for PHA biopolymers, which are recognised as outstanding candidates to replace conventional polymers, to be used. The research outlines that PHA is an ideal ingredient in wood plastic composites as it leads to improved processing and better composite properties, is water resistant, and can be generated on-site from waste streams.

Industrially relevant PHA can be readily synthesised in mixed cultures, which can utilise cheap and renewable carbon sources such as waste streams from the pulp and paper industry. This, coupled with the innovative approach of making direct use of PHA-rich intact cells in WPCs (thereby avoiding PHA extraction), means the PHA could be cost-competitive with alternatives.

Dr Luigi Vandi and Dr Clement Chan are part of the Translational Polymers Research Group, which is led by Associate Professor Bronwyn Laycock, UQ Plastics.