Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Science (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science


Laurent Malanda Matuana


Wood plastic composites (WPCs) have gained popularity as building materials because of their usefulness in replacing solid wood in a variety of applications. These composites are promoted as being low-maintenance, high-durability products. However, it has been shown that WPCs exposed to weathering may experience a color change and/or loss in mechanical properties. An important requirement for building materials used in outdoor applications is the retention of their aesthetic qualities and mechanical properties during service life. Therefore, it is critical to understand the photodegradation mechanisms of WPCs exposed to UV radiation and to develop approaches to stabilize these composites (both unstabilized and stabilized) as well as the effect of weathering on the color fade and the retention of mechanical properties were characterized.

Since different methods of manufacturing WPCs lead to different surface characteristics, which can influence weathering, the effect of manufacturing method on the photodegradation of WPCs was investigated first. Wood flour (WF) filled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) composite samples were either injection molded, extruded, or extruded and then planed. Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy was used to monitor the surface chemistry of the manufactured composites. The spectra showed that the surface of planed samples had more wood component than extruded and injection molded samples, respectively. After weathering, the samples were analyzed for color fade, and loss of flexural properties. The final lightness of the composites was not dependent upon the manufacturing method. However the mechanical property loss was dependent upon manufacturing method. The samples with more wood component at the surface (planed samples) experienced a larger percentage of total loss in flexural properties after weathering due to a greater effect of moisture on the samples.

The change in surface chemistry of HDPE and WF/HDPE composites after weathering was studied using spectroscopic techniques. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) was used to characterize the occurrence of surface oxidation whereas FTIR spectroscopy was used to monitor the development of degradation products, such as carbonyl groups and vinyl groups, and to determine changes in HDPE crystallinity. Surface oxidation occurred immediately after exposure for both the neat HDPE and WF/HDPE composites. After weathering, the surface of the WF/HDPE composites was oxidized to a greater extent than the neat HDPE after weathering. This suggests that photodegradation is exacerbated by the addition of the carbonyl functional groups of the wood fibers within the HDPE atrix during composite manufacturing. While neat HDPE may undergo cross-linking in the initial stages of accelerated weathering, the WF may physically hinder the ability of the HDPE to cross-link resulting in the potential for HDPE chain scission to dominate in the initial weathering stages of the WF/HDPE composites.

To determine which photostabilizers are most effective for WF/HDPE composites, factorial experimental designes were used to determine the effects of adding two hindered amine light stabilizers, an ultraviolet absorber, and a pigment on the color made and mechanical properties of both unweathered and UV weathered samples. Both the pigment and ultraviolet absorber were more effective photostabilizers for WF/HDPE composites than hinder amine light stabilizers. The ineffectiveness of hindered amine light stabilizers in protecting WPCs against UV radiation was attribuated to the acid/base reactions occurring between the WF and hindered amine light stabilizer.

The efficiency of an ultraviolet absorber and/or pigment was also examined by incorporating different concentration of an ultraviolet absorber and/or pigment into WF/HDPE composites. Color change and flexural properties were determined after accelerated UV weathering. The lightness of the composite after weathering was influenced by the concentration of both the ultraviolet absorber by masking the bleaching wood component as well as blocking UV light. Flexural MOE loss was influenced by an increase in ultraviolet absorber concentration, but increasing pigment concentration from 1 to 2% had little influence on MOE loss. However, increasing both ultraviolet absorber and pigment concentration resulted in improved strength properties over the unstabilized composites after 3000 h of weather.

Finally, the change in surface chemistry due to weathering of WF/HDPE composites that were either unstabilized or stabilized with an ultraviolet absorber and/or pigment was analyzed using FTIR spectroscopy. The samples were tested for loss in modulus of elasticity, carbonyl and vinyl group formation at the surface, and change in HDPE crystallinity. It was concluded that structural changes in the samples; carbonyl group formation, terminal vinyl group formation, and crystallinity changes cannot reliably be used to predict changes in modulus of elasticity using a simple linear relationship. The effect of cross-linking, chain scission, and crystallinity changes due to ultraviolet exposure as well as the interfacial degradation due to moisture exposure are inter-related factors when weathering HDPE and WF/HDPE composites.