DN Staff

February 25, 2010

2 Min Read
Designers Love the Feel of Wood-Based Plastics

Many designers are looking to a very oldwood-based plastic to achieve a new look that has green values.

One example is a clear protective casefor the Apple iPhone 3G that showcases the device's iconic design. "We wanted acrystal-clear material with window-like clarity," says Jedd Komlos, leadindustrial designer for Ventev Innovations. The material is called Naturacell,a durable plastic developed by Rotuba Extruders Ltd of Linden, NJ,that blends a natural-based softener with Eastman cellulosics derived from thepulp of softwood trees.

This plastic has deep roots. EastmanKodak founded the Tennessee Eastman Co. in 1920 to manufacture wood alcohol forfilm base. In 1932, Tennessee Eastman began production of its first plastic -Tenite acetate. It was the first thermoplastic and found widespread use inCraftsman tool handles, toys, sunglass frames, toothbrush handles andelsewhere.

Cellulosic plastics, which are composedof 40 to 45 percent wood pulp, have a distinct feel and scent. Tenite has beenreplaced in some applications in recent years because of its high pricerelative to commodity plastics such as polystyrene.

But other designers are latching on tothe sustainability angle. "All of our wood pulp comes from sustainably managedforests," says Gaylon White, director of design programs at Eastman Chemical,which was spun off from Eastman Kodak in 1993. "For every two trees that areharvested, three are planted." Most of the trees come from Southern softwoodforests, and all come from the U.S.

The iPhone case from Ventev acceleratesthe sustainable angle by using packaging made from fully recycled paperboard.But designer Komlos also likes the clarity of Tenite and the surface finish."It's very smooth and soft," he says. "If you run your fingernails across thesurface, they glide as smooth as ice."

One big payoff could be interior touchpoints in high-end luxury cars, says White. So far, however, there have been noautomotive interior applications.

Tenite plastic provides clarity, chemical resistance and a smooth feel.

Designers Love the Feel of Wood-Based Plastics A

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