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Strong, fire-proof composite made from recycled shredded paper

08 July 2014

Walls could now be made from shredded paper thanks to work by researchers at Nottingham Trent University who have developed a material as strong as MDF.

From left: Dr Anton Ianakiev, Hooi Cheah and Dr Anthony Crabbe (who holds a specimen of the shredded paper composite)
From left: Dr Anton Ianakiev, Hooi Cheah and Dr Anthony Crabbe (who holds a specimen of the shredded paper composite)

A study led by Dr Anton Ianakiev, of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, and Dr Anthony Crabbe, of the School of Art & Design, established a new, rigid composite material which is not only paper-based but also fire and water resistant.

It is made from a mixture of long strands of shredded paper and a sodium silicate gluing agent, which protects against flame and moisture.

To make it, the two materials are mixed at a ratio of 80 percent paper and 20 percent sodium silicate and then compressed at high pressure and temperature (90°c).

The result is a composite material which removes the need to recycle the paper and is affordable, quick to manufacture, competitive against chipboard and medium density fibreboard (MDF) and can be moulded into various shapes, including structural panels.

“It’s very important that the materials of tomorrow are designed to be as sustainable as possible," says Dr Ianakiev, a senior lecturer in civil engineering. “Shredded paper, which is widely available, could become a viable construction material at a potentially low cost. The fact that it can be used to make a rigid material that is fire and water resistant will surely make it very appealing to the construction industry.”

To further exploit the material’s high stiffness, the researchers moulded it into a ribbed pattern that greatly increased its load bearing capacity.

“We’re very pleased with the results of moulding this composite material which performs better than chipboard in respect of its strength, versatility and its variety of potential applications,” adds Dr Crabbe.

“Recycled waste paper really could become an important future material for the construction industry as it is a more sustainable way of reprocessing waste paper than recycling it,” says postgraduate researcher Hooi Cheah, who worked on the project.

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