No Pulp Fiction: Wood Fiber Composite Can ‘Thrive’ in Automotives

By Karen Koenig | Posted: 10/01/2012 10:00AM


American ingenuity – and the quest for sustainability -- is alive and well.

Last week Weyerhaeuser announced it had found a new market for tree fibers. The forestry giant developed a new thermoplastic composite that incorporates specially engineered cellulose fiber, sourced in part from the company's 20 million acres of sustainably managed forests.

Called THRIVE, Weyerhaeuser says the composite material can be used in a variety of applications including: automotive parts, office furniture, household goods, appliances and industrial goods. The cellulose fibers are used in place of fiberglass or mineral reinforcements in the thermoplastic material.

According to Don Atkinson, vice president, marketing and new products for Weyerhaeuser’s Cellulose Fibers business, THRIVE offers excellent tensile strength and flexural properties. “These composites can improve molding cycle times up to 40 percent. Products made with THRIVE require less energy to produce and can reduce wear and tear on processing equipment when compared with those containing abrasive short glass fibers. These substantial benefits create significant advantages for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprints while enhancing performance and productivity,” Atkinson said in a statement.

click image to zoomCellulose in Autos Ford Motor Co./WeyerhaeuserFord Motor Co. Weyerhaeuser is already working with Ford Motor Co. on ways to incorporate the new material into interior and exterior vehicle components – a move which the automotive company says could lessen the environmental impact of the vehicles. “Specifically, replacing fiberglass, minerals and/or petroleum with a natural, plant-based material can sequester CO2 and ultimately lead to a smaller carbon footprint, among other benefits,” a statement from Ford says.

“Our responsibility to the customer is to increase our use of more sustainable materials in the right applications that benefit both the environment and product performance,” John Viera, Ford global director of Sustainability and Environmental matters, added.

In addition, the automotive company reports the prototype “components weigh about 10 percent less and can be produced 20 to 40 percent faster and with less energy when made with cellulose-based materials compared with fiberglass-based materials.”

What's next on the horizon for wood in cars to reduce the auto's carbon footprint? A comeback of the Woodie?



About the Author

Karen M. Koenig

Karen M. Koenig has more than 25 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As Editor-in-Chief of Woodworking Network magazine (formerly Wood & Wood Products), Karen’s primary responsibilities include spearheading the writing, editing and coordinating of the editorial content of the publication, along with the Red Book resource guide and the Red Book online source and supply directory ( She is also a frequent contributor to other Woodworking Network online and print media. She can be reached at or Google+.

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