The picture shows the starch-based boards being used to make sample cabinets.
The picture shows the starch-based boards being used to make sample cabinets.

LEICESTER, UK - Researchers from the University of Leicester in the UK have developed a biodegradable composite panel that uses resin made from the starch of potatoes and other natural sources.

Professor Andrew Abbott was awarded the Royal Society Brian Mercer Award for Innovation 2013 for the development of the new medium density fiberboard panel. The announcement was made October 31.

New MDF Panel Uses Potato Starch ResinProfessor Abbott and his team at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Leicester developed the recyclable product. The group worked with the Biocomposites Centre, Bangor University and Leicestershire-based retail design company Sheridan and Co., to produce prototypes of the panels and manufacture them into retail display units. Other common uses for MDF include cabinetry and furniture.

According to a statement from the University of Leicester, in addition to the health benefits from eliminating urea formaldehyde from the resin, "The new material is easier to manufacture than existing MDF as the components are easily pre-mixed and only set on the application of heat and pressure; end user feedback suggests it is also easier to work with than currently available MDF boards." Another benefit, the statement says, is that the recyclable material results in less waste going to landfills. Almost 1 million tons of MDF is produced in the UK every year.

The news has worldwide implications. Composite panels have been in the news recently as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency looks to regulate the emissions of formaldehyde from these products. The new resin formulation is said to eliminate that.

“It is impressive to see someone take a material that is commonplace in all of our homes and solve its key limitations. Professor Abbott has managed to re-invent MDF, transforming it into a product that has much more relevance in an environmentally conscious society,” Professor Anthony Cheetham, vice president and treasurer of the Royal Society, said in a statement.

Abbott added, “The Brian Mercer Award is fundamental in enabling us to take this project forward to the next stage; it means we can now scale up our process from laboratory to the full scale manufacture of a product that I hope will revolutionize industries dependent on MDF and provide them with a more environmentally-friendly alternative.” 

Abbott will receive approximately $275,000. The prize money will be used to bring the four collaborators together to create a supply chain to create prototypes for the point-of-sale market.

The Brian Mercer Award for Innovation is a scheme for scientists who wish to develop an already proven concept or prototype into a near-market product ready for commercial exploitation.

“It has been a technological challenge to develop material with the correct properties, but it is a great thrill to see the finished boards which look identical to the MDF which is so commonly used,” added  Dr. Will Wise, who led the practical studies.

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