World first for Unilin Group: recycling of MDF boards

Innovative recycling technology developed in Belgium provides missing link for circularity. 

18 October 2021

Unilin Group has developed a unique innovative technology allowing the recycling of MDF and HDF panels on an industrial scale. This is a world first, because until now this was technically impossible. The new technique will enable Unilin Group to store 380,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in wood fibres that are given a second life.

MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) and HDF (High Density Fibreboard) panels are commonly used in the furniture industry, interior design and in the production of laminate flooring. Every year approximately 100 million m3 of these fibreboards is produced worldwide.

Sustainable production

Unilin Panels, the division within Unilin Group responsible for manufacturing such panel material, has set its sights on sustainable production for quite some time. Therefore it’s no surprise that wood should occupy a special place in the sustainability strategy of Unilin Group. It is a renewable and recyclable product that continues to store CO2 as long as it is not incinerated.  So the longer wood can be used and reused, the more our climate benefits.

That is why Unilin Panels uses reclaimed wood for the production of MDF and HDF panels. This wood residue is no longer of use and is therefore saved from incineration. In this way Unilin Group gives waste wood a fresh lease of life with a new material application. But now Unilin Group takes recycling to a whole new level.

Recycling MDF and HDF panels

Unilin Group has developed an innovative technology to recover wood fibres from boards in an economically viable way and reuse them for the production of high-quality fibreboards on an industrial scale. This is a world first because until now this was technically impossible.

Veronique Hoflack, President of Unilin Panels, was instrumental in the development of the new recycling technology. She explains: “Using an adhesive as a binding agent for the wood fibres meant that no industrially viable process existed to recycle the fibres from waste boards at the end of their useful life. As a result the lion’s share of these boards is incinerated after use (on average 14-20 years). We have succeeded in developing a new and innovative process to recycle these wood fibres and reuse them for the production of new panel material. Just think of our decorative panels or the Quick-Step laminate floors. The new technology doubles the lifespan of the wood fibres! This prolonged life will give new trees the opportunity to grow and, in turn, store CO2. A major step towards achieving circularity.”

Circularity is part of our DNA

The development of this trailblazing new technology is fully in line with the sustainability strategy of Unilin Group. As part of that strategy the company is committed to contributing to the Paris climate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Unilin Group considers its drive for innovation a prerequisite to achieving these ambitious goals.

Bernard Thiers, CEO Unilin Group: “Circularity has been part of Unilin Group’s DNA from day one. In 1960 we started out as a producer of flax chipboards, offering a solution for the processing of waste from the local flax industry. Even then we saw the challenges linked to the reuse of materials as an opportunity and this is still the case today. Our new technology brings things full circle for the MDF and HDF panels (the basis for Quick-Step laminate). This development dovetails with our sustainable raw materials strategy that focuses on reclaimed or recycled wood while prolonging the life cycle of wood as much as possible.”

In an initial phase Unilin Group will deploy the technology to recycle materials used internally at our production site in Bazeilles, where the company has been investing for many years in cutting-edge technology for the production of MDF and HDF panels. In the next phase the recycling capacity will be ramped up so externally collected fibreboards and laminate floors can also be recycled.

This technology, which has meanwhile been patented, is an absolute world first. The aim is to replace at least 25% of Unilin Group’s raw materials mix for MDF and HDF boards with recycled fibres by 2030. This will enable us to store 380,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in the wood fibres that are given a new lease of life thanks to this technology.

As part of our eco-design activities, we also take part in the European Circular Sustainable Floor Covering (CISUFLO) project, financed by the EU Commission within the scope of the Horizon 2020 program.

Read Unilin Stories to discover how we translate our sustainability goals into concrete actions.