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 four to five times the price of wood decking. But AERT is focusing instead on using nanotechnology to create an improved wood-plastic composites product.
“It's a game changer because it coats the fibers so the decking doesn't fade, scratch, or mar,” Gwatney said in an interview at Deck Expo, held Oct. 12-14 in Chicago. “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, to be held Feb. 8-10 in Orlando, Fla. 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 also will introduce “a couple of new handrail lines” in 2012 that another firm is manufacturing for them. And AERT is adding another extrusion line, bringing its total to seven when that line starts up in the first quarter of 2012, Gwatney said.
The nanotechnology-enhanced materials for the decking are being developed in partnership with NanoMech Inc. in Fayetteville, Ark., located 10 miles from AERT's headquarters in Springdale.
Gwatney said AERT will dedicate two lines to the decking that incorporates nanotechnology. “It requires a whole new process before it gets to extrusion,” he said.
“We began working two years with NanoMech on how to address the weaknesses of wood composites and make them better,” AERT founder, Chairman and CEO Joe Brooks said at the recent Principia Partners Wood-Plastic and Fiber Composites conference in Charlotte, N.C. “We are focusing on how you change the molecular structure to make the atoms smarter and smarter.”
AERT has begun incorporating nanoparticle compounds into a composite structure with positive results, and is now incorporating a nano barrier layer into the surface of a compatible material as the firm moves toward commercialization, Brooks said.
“We believe nanotechnology will be one of the next technology leaders for this industry,” he said. “AERT's NanoShield board will represent a game-changing product with unmatched performance and characteristics.
“It will have a real-wood look, although I can't say that we've caught up to Mother Nature yet,” Brooks said.
AERT said that in its process, inorganic nanoparticles 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 at its Springdale site, and the company's 18-month-old plastics 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.