Donald Schaefer’s enthusiasm is contagious, and with good reason. The managing director of Resopal, Europe’s premier maker of decorative high pressure laminate, had just learned his company’s latest introduction won the top award at Interzum 2011, the world’s largest fair for furniture and interior materials.
The product – Re-Y-Stone – is indeed revolutionary. “It’s a 100-percent ecological material, made completely from regenerative raw materials,” says Schaefer. “Technically it’s a 'laminate,’ but we don’t call it that. Unlike most laminates, the paper we use is 100-percent recycled, and the resin system is made from sugarcane, not petroleum-based systems like melamine or phenol. It’s truly the world’s first biocomposite sheet material for furniture, flooring and other interior surfaces.”
Re-Y-Stone was used throughout Resopal’s large 2012 Interzum stand, on tabletops, vertical surfaces and even on the floor. Unlike the material most people think of as HPL, it was shown without the printed or solid-color decorative paper layer. The blackish brown color normally associated with the core of HPL, normally only visible at the edges and seams, has a warm, organic appeal, and is homogenous throughout the thickness of the material.
"Re-Y-Stone" consists of recycled papers and natural resins. The resin is produced from bagasse, a byproduct of the sugar industry that is obtained when extracting the juice from sugar cane. The fibrous matter that remains after crushing, bagasse is 40 to 60 percent cellulose, 20 to 30 percent a mixture of polysaccharides occurring in vegetable biomass and 20 percent lignin, a substance that strengthens the cane and gives it a woody structure.
The “Re” part of the name indicates the exclusive use of post-consumer recovered papers. “Stone” alludes not only to the materials’ natural origin but also describes the properties of the innovation. Once hardened, the bio-resin possesses the qualities of thermosetting plastic and, together with the natural fibres, forms a hard, highly stress-resistant, dimensionally stable sheet or board with a tough surface. Resistant to many common household cleaning products and chemicals, it is also extremely difficult to set on fire.
Nature-inspired Re-Y-Stone finishes include the matte-finish Dune, Moon, with drops that look like miniature lunar craters, Stonehenge, modelled after a carefully selected Portuguese slate, Everglades, a finish created by designer Markus Wasse and reminiscent of the landscape bearing the same name, the rough-surfaced Havanna, and Roots, a texture formed by root fibers.
“With this resin you can produce deep finishes that are impossible with melamine,” says Schaefer. “Our deepest textures are 2.7mm, which would crack a melamine resin-treated paper.”
Part of Re-Y-Stone’s charm comes from the irregularities visible on its surface. “The resin doesn’t penetrate paper the same in all areas, so you get variations in the richness of the color and gloss,” Schaefer says. "The outside layers of paper as the sandwich goes into the press are raw, not impregnated with resin. The resin flows from the middle layers to the outside layers in the heat and pressure of the press."
It is produced in thicknesses ranging from 1 mil to 40 mil; below 3 mil it is laminated to a substrate. Colors include deep black, warm brown, plus the newly developed “Jasmine Green,” “Red Paper” and “Blue Paper” finishes.
Schaefer adds that Re-Y-Stone will find itself at home in environments where designers and their clients are looking to make an environmental statement. TÜV Rheinland awarded Re-Y-Stone the "LGA pollutant-tested" label, demonstrating that its pollutant emissions fall well below the statutory limits. And at the end of its fundamentally long product life, because of its high calorific value it is just as suitable for generating carbon-neutral heat as it is for being recycled into filler for wood-plastic composites.
Kenn Busch also publishes the web site, Materialintelligence.com, a resource for architects and interior designers.