¦ Kaurit Light is at least 20% lighter than standard chipboard.
¦ It can be made with existing panel machinery.
¦ SAIB and Nolte Holzwerkstoffe are making Kaurit Light.
¦ BASF believes the product can replace standard chipboard kitchen worktops.

It’s chipboard, but not as we know it.

When the world’s largest chemicals company – BASF – becomes involved in further developing chipboard to make it lighter, it’s worth taking notice.

Lightweight panel products have come to the fore in recent years as a way of saving on raw material and energy and resin costs, and improved ease of handling and logistics. Honeycomb products and reduced density chipboard have been two existing ways to achieve this, with their use fairly common in Europe by the likes of IKEA.

20% lighter

BASF has teamed up with Italian panel producer SAIB to develop a chipboard that it claims is at least 20% lighter than standard products. It is branded “Light” and uses the Kaurit Light polymer system.

Particleboard made with Kaurit consists of wood chips, Kaurit polymer and a bonding agent. Before being added to the wood chips, Kaurit Light is foamed in a pre-foamer. The rest of the manufacturing process is identical to that of conventional chipboard, while normal machines and materials can be used in the further processing of the product.

This, BASF believes, is what marks the system out and gives a real advantage over honeycomb products.

“Existing lightweight panels have only been partly successful due to always having disadvantages when compared to conventional panels,” said BASF product manager Dr Stephan Weinkoetz.

“Honeycomb boards have impressive weight benefits, especially with thick panels. But it can’t be processed like conventional particleboards.

“For furniture manufacturers or other processors, this means large investments in time and money in order to exploit the advantages. Reduced density particleboards typically have significantly inferior mechanics compared to conventional boards.

“Our aim from day one was to develop a board that combined the processability of conventional boards, significant weight reduction and the possibility of being produced on existing production lines.”

Furniture production

“Thanks to our strategic partnership with BASF, we’re developing exciting new possibilities in industrial furniture production,” added Adriana Conti, managing director of SAIB SpA. “At the same time, we’re satisfying furniture manufacturers’ requirements for a new, lighter material.”

The first public presentation of the product was at the recent SICAM trade fair in Italy. A market launch is planned for early 2011, with BASF hoping Kaurit Light will be promoted and manufactured across Europe, Asia and the US.

SAIB, which also plans to make V100 water-resistant Kaurit Light panels, is the second panel producer to make the product, the first being Nolte Holzwerkstoffe in Germany, which has achieved a 30% weight reduction.

SAIB is launching its 20% lighter panels now as the product meets relevant standards and the company wants to get it into the market; development work continues to reach the 30% weight reduction.

“We are currently in discussion with various panel board producers in Europe and abroad. We hope to finalise the discussions shortly,” added Dr Weinkoetz. “There is a lot of interest from both panel manufacturers and the furniture industry.

Kitchen worktops

“It’s still too early to predict what percentage of chipboards will contain Kaurit Light in the future or how big the market will be. But we believe that the concept is gaining ground and, in the medium term, has the potential to replace conventional chipboards in specific applications such as kitchen worktops.

“Products that weigh less require less energy to transport or to dry the timber. And you also cut down consumption of timber itself, which is becoming an ever more important consideration, especially as timber prices are expected to rise.”

As well as the benefits of cost and sustainable use of resources, there are advantages for people at all stages of the value chain.

“Modern materials are becoming easier to handle because they’re lighter. Imagine the fitter who has to carry a load of furniture from the truck up to the fourth floor, or the consumer who’s loading flat-packed furniture into the car,” said Dr Weinkoetz.