Effects of Water Soaking–drying Cycles on Thermally Modified Spruce Wood–plastic Composites.


  • Susanna Källbom Division of Building Materials, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • Kristiina Lillqvist Division of Building Materials, KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  • Steven Spoljaric Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Aalto University
  • Jukka Seppälä Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Aalto University
  • Kristoffer Segerholm Division Bioeconomy, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden Stockholm
  • Lauri Rautkari Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems, Aalto University
  • Mark Hughes Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems, Aalto University
  • Magnus Wålinder Division of Building Materials, KTH Royal Institute of Technology


Thermally modified wood (TMW), wood-plastic composite (WPC), water absorption, dimensional stability, micromorphology, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), UV-laser ablation


The overall aim of this work was to gain more insight on the potential of modified wood (TMW) components for use in wood–thermoplastic composites (WPCs). Laboratory-scale TMWPCs were produced, and the effects of severe water soaking–drying cycles on the samples were studied. Water sorption behavior and resulting dimensional and micromorphological changes were also studied, and the results were compared with those of unmodified wood–plastic composites (UWPCs) used as control. The TMW was prepared by cutting a spruce board into half and subjecting one-half to an atmosphere of superheated steam at atmospheric pressure with a peak temperature of 210°C, with the other unmodified wood (UW) half as a control. The TMW and UW components were then prepared by a Wiley mill and thereafter sifted into smaller (mesh 0.20-0.40 mm) and larger (mesh 0.40-0.63 mm) size fractions. A portion of the wood components were also subjected to thermal extraction (HE). Composite samples with these different wood components, polypropylene (PP) matrix, and maleated PP (MAPP) as coupling agent (50/48/2 wood/PP/MAPP ratio by weight) were then prepared by using a Brabender mixer followed by hot pressing. The matching micromorphology of the composites before and after the soaking–drying cycles was analyzed using a surface preparation technique based on ultraviolet-laser ablation combined with scanning electron microscopy. The results of the water absorption tests showed, as hypothesized, a significantly reduced water absorption and resulting thickness swelling at the end of a soaking cycle for the TMWPCs compared with the controls (UWPCs). The water absorption was reduced with about 50-70% for TMWPC and 60-75% for HE-TMWPC. The thickness swelling for TMWPCs was reduced with about 40-70% compared with the controls. Similarly, the WPCs with HE-UW components absorbed about 20-45% less moisture and showed a reduced thickness swelling of about 25-40% compared with the controls. These observations also were in agreement with the micromorphology analysis of the composites before and after the moisture cycling which showed a more pronounced wood–plastic interfacial cracking (de-bonding) as well as other microstructure changes in the controls compared with those prepared with TMW and HE-UW components. Based on these observations, it is suggested that these potential bio-based building materials show increased potential durability for applications in harsh outdoor environments, in particular TMWPCs with a well-defined and comparably small size fractions of TMW components.



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Research Contributions