A new generation of ultra-light bio-based particleboard produced with an in-line foaming step


In tomorrow’s furniture-making industry, light and strong wood-based materials will be in great demand. These materials enable manufacturers to produce furniture that is easy to transport and can even be delivered by mail. The increasing importance of cash-and-carry and Internet business in the furniture sector is prompting manufacturers to produce ever lighter components.

Project description (completed research project)

Today, most furniture is made from particleboard that has an average weight of up to 700 kilograms per cubic metre, but this is too heavy for the furniture market of tomorrow. Because of the growing demand for cash-and-carry and Internet-based business, furniture manufacturers need to use ever lighter materials. In this project, researchers set out to develop a new, low-cost process for manufacturing layered boards comprising two surface layers of particleboard and a foam core. From past research, scientists know that it is possible to manufacture this type of board offering the desired properties, but difficulties were encountered regarding the production of the foam under industrial conditions.


The furniture-making industry is increasingly focusing on lighter materials that offer a variety of benefits for manufacturers as well as customers. Here it is important to ensure that the use of lighter materials will not mean a reduction in the strength properties of conventional particleboard.

Particleboard is of the utmost importance in the furniture-making industry. In view of the growing demand for cash-and-carry furniture and the increasing importance of furniture buying via the Internet, researchers and manufacturers have for some time been focusing on the development of lighter materials for particleboards. For particleboard producers, mastering the necessary manufacturing processes will enable them to gain access to a market that is expected to grow strongly in the future and will offer significant value-added potential.


In this project, researchers set out to achieve two main objectives. Firstly, the development of a foam core for layered particleboards that meet the defined high ecological, technological and economic requirements. And secondly, the optimisation of the one-step process for manufacturing layered boards and adapting them to the applicable industrial requirements.


The furniture-making industry does not yet have the necessary particleboards at its disposal for manufacturing lighter products while reducing the consumption of resources. Lightweight bio-based particleboards could secure the competitiveness of wood and wood-based products over the long term and open up new perspectives for the European wood industry.


Within the scope of National Research Programme (NRP) 66, scientists developed an ultra-light particleboard in which a foam core made from a bio-based material is used in order to reduce the overall weight. At the same time they succeeded in maintaining the strength properties at a high level. The process developed by the team has the potential to be used in industrial production.

Weight reduction is achieved thanks to a layered board structure: the board consists of a lightweight foam core and two surface layers with properties similar to those of particleboards. In the past such boards had to be produced from three separately manufactured layers, but this method is relatively expensive and thus only had a chance of success in niche markets.

For the research team, the biggest challenge was to find a way to adapt the temperatures for the production of the surface layers and the foam core so that it would be possible for all processes to be carried out at a uniform temperature. Here, for example, the conditions for the expansion of the foam core have to correspond to those that are required for hardening the bonding agents in the surface layers.

On the one hand, the researchers developed a bio-based foam precursor, and on the other they adapted the board production process to the new conditions. In this way, they were able to attain almost the same temperatures for the production of both the foam core and the surface layers.

They then carried out a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of the new particleboards, the results of which indicated that it is the raw materials used for producing the foam, together with the end-of-life strategy, that are decisive when it comes to environmental impacts.

Original title

A new generation of ultra-light bio-based particleboard produced with an in-line foaming step

Project leader

  • Dr. Heiko Thoemen, Architektur, Holz und Bau, Berner Fachhochschule, Biel
  • Dr. Christopher Plummer, Laboratory of Composite and Polymer Technology, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
  • Prof. Jan-Anders E. Månson, Laboratory of Composite and Polymer Technology, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne



Further information on this content


Dr. Heiko Thoemen Architecture, Wood and Civil Engineering Bern University of Applied Sciences Solothurnstrasse 102 2504 Biel +41 32 344 03 31