Innovative Approaches To Enhance the Structural Performance of Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL)

EPA Contract Number: 68D99047
Title: Innovative Approaches To Enhance the Structural Performance of Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL)
Investigators: Krishnaswamy, Prabhat
Small Business: Engineering Mechanics Corporation of Columbus (EMC2)
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 1999 through March 1, 2000
Project Amount: $68,415
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Hazardous Waste/Remediation , SBIR - Waste , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


This project outlines an approach to overcome one of the main drawbacks of recycled plastic lumber (RPL), currently manufactured by using postconsumer and/or postindustrial waste thermoplastics. The success of this project will increase the markets for RPL significantly. Structural applications for RPL currently are limited by its low stiffness values as compared with competing materials such as wood. Therefore, in spite of its many advantages such as longer service life, lower maintenance requirements, and rot and insect resistance, RPL has not been able to penetrate the residential decking, marine and waterfront boardwalks, or pedestrian bridge applications to any appreciable extent.

The innovation proposed in this project is to enhance the structural properties of RPL by designing a composite sandwich structure that uses existing high-modulus reinforcement materials such as fiberglass laminates. Once the design and manufacturing hurdles are overcome using the approach outlined in this effort, RPL could compete with traditional materials based on its performance characteristics. Additionally, it would have the advantage of lower life-cycle costs and would create markets to divert large amounts of postconsumer waste plastics from landfills to high-valued, durable products.

The results anticipated in this project are to: develop novel designs, establish manufacturing and processing requirements, and fabricate prototypes of reinforced recycled plastic lumber. The new product is expected to retain all the advantages of the polymer with significantly enhanced structural properties, especially in flexure (bending). These enhanced properties would allow the new product to compete with traditional materials such as wood. Commercial applications for this reinforced RPL would include residential decking as well as marine and waterfront structures such as boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, and sheet pilings on docks and piers.

The manufacturing process to be developed in the project is anticipated to be cost-competitive and not involve significant capital expenditure as compared with existing manufacturing technologies for RPL. The superior performance of the new RPL, coupled with lower life-cycle costs, is expected to provide significant penetration into the $600 to $800 million commercial markets listed earlier.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, recycling, engineering, EPA., Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, Waste, Sustainable Industry/Business, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Municipal, Chemistry, Technology for Sustainable Environment, New/Innovative technologies, Engineering, Market mechanisms, green products, alternative materials, hazardous waste, polymers, recycling, plastic, recycled plastic lumber (RPL), innovative technology, plastics

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report