ORONO, Maine — Your next deck or fence could last longer and withstand more punishment thanks to newly patented technology developed at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center.
U.S. Patent No. 8,221,663, which was issued July 17, introduces a method for the manufacture of synthetic wood.
The process involves combining wood and plastic in a manner that strengthens and stiffens the final product by polymer cross-linking, which reduces the weight because bubbles are formed in the mixture, according to a university press release.
The patent application states that traditional wood fences, while they look nice, are more labor-intensive to construct, heavier and more difficult to maintain.
Researchers at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center have been developing composite materials for use in plastic fencing and decks for the past decade by mixing sawdust and plastic. While those materials are more durable and easier to maintain than natural wood, the past composites tend to lack strength and stiffness and can warp after long-term exposure to sun and heat, the researchers said.
The new process creates a composite that improves on those products, and the technology is being considered by several manufacturers, according to the researchers.
The patent was issued to Doug Gardner, UMaine professor of forest resources, Chris West, a research associate at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, Yousoo Han, a UMaine assistant research professor, and Stephen Michalik, a researcher at NOVA Chemicals’ Beaver Valley Technology Center in Monaca, Pa.