CHICAGO (Oct. 28, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Wood-plastic composite decking manufacturer Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. plans to introduce the industry's first decking board that incorporates nanotechnology in the second quarter of next year.
“It will be a high-end product which will look more like wood. It will be something to compete with cellular PVC and capstock composites,” said Brent Gwatney, vice president of sales and marketing for AERT's MoistureShield brand, which includes the high-end Vantage Collection Pro Series and the lower-priced Essential product collection.
Much of the industry is rushing to bring to market capped wood-plastic composites—which have a price premium of 4-5 times the price of wood decking. But AERT is focusing instead of using nanotechnology to create an improved WPC product.
“It's a game changer because it coats the fibers so the decking doesn't fade, scratch, or mar,” said Gwatney in an interview at Deck Expo in Chicago Oct. 12-14. “There is a lot we can do with nanotechnology with colors, reflective products and there is even the opportunity to harness energy and light your deck.”
A prototype of the NanoShield board will be on display at the International Builders Show in Orlando, Fla., Feb 8-10. The initial products will be composite-based with high fade and mold and mildew resistance, more closely resembling wood, while providing superior slip resistance, AERT said.
AERT will also introduce “a couple of new handrail lines” in 2012 that another company is manufacturing for them, and is in the processing of “bringing on another extrusion line”—which will bring the company total to seven when that line starts up in the first quarter of next year, Gwatney said.
The nanotechnology-enhanced materials for the decking are being developed in partnership with NanoMech Inc., which is located in Fayetteville, Ark., 10 miles south of AERT's headquarters in nearby Springdale.
Gwatney said AERT will “dedicate two lines specifically” for the decking that incorporates nanotechnology. “It requires a whole new process before it gets to extrusion.”
“We began working two years with NanoMech on how to address the weaknesses of wood composites and make them better,” explained AERT founder, Chairman and CEO Joe Brooks at the Principia Partners Wood-Plastic and Fiber Composites conference in Charlotte the week before Deck Expo. “We are focusing on how you change the molecular structure to make the atoms smarter and smarter.”
“We have begun incorporating nano particle compounds into a composite structure with positive results, and are now incorporating a nano barrier layer into the surface of a compatible material as we move toward commercialization,” said Brooks.
“We believe nano-technology will be one of the next technology leaders for this industry,” said Brooks. “AERT's NanoShield board will represent a game-changing product with unmatched performance and characteristics.”
“There will no fade and it will have enhanced, brighter fade-resistant colors,” said Brooks. “There is superior slip resistance and it will have a real wood look, although I can't say that we've caught up to Mother Nature yet.”
AERT said that in its process, inorganic nano particles are bonded to treated wood particles—using grafting and coupling agents— to form a durable shell of similar composition that looks like real wood.
“We have invested over $54 million over the last five years building infrastructure and technology,” Brooks said.
That includes investments in plastics identification and reformulation technologies, the addition of a Nanoscale Material Science and Engineering building on its Springdale site that had its ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 16, and the company's 18-month-old plastic recycling plant in Watts, Okla., which reduces AERT's exposure to buying materials on the open market.
“With Watts, we have essentially taken ourselves off the plastic [buying] market,” added Gwatney, giving AERT what he said is a 20-30 reduction in plastic raw material costs.
“We are building the infrastructure to have state-of-the-art extrusion facilities and to be able to dig deeper into the waste stream for materials for our recycling plant in Watts,” said Brooks. “You have to be able to position yourself to be the low-cost producer because you can't just keep charging more and more. There is a limit to what people will want to pay.”