MDF Recovery (MDFR) has put a huge amount of R&D work into finding a solution to one of the big dilemmas facing the wood waste chain – finding commercially viable ways to recycle and reuse the mountain of waste MDF.

The company was formed in 2009 and its work has taken it to a landmark moment this February – the start of construction on the world’s first industrial scale MDF recycling demonstration plant.

The plant will be run by Platts Agriculture Ltd in Llay, Wales. Platts, a supplier of animal bedding products (wood shavings) has been manufacturing for over 50 years and is looking to diversify and invest into new markets.

Using technology developed in the UK, MDFR will supply a plant that will reclaim high-quality fibres from waste MDF to produce loose fill natural insulation material.

This will represent the first example of wood fibre-based insulation manufacture in the UK, displacing imported products and those derived from fossil fuels.

The plant at Platts will eventually have a capacity of up to 3,000 tonnes per year. This, at current estimates, will reach 60,000m3 of loose fill product once commercial operations begin.

The plant construction process is expected to take 12-15 months to complete.

This project has secured support from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK.

The recycled MDF fibres will be tested and used in trials with the construction sector, particularly businesses that are active in the expanding offsite, modular panel manufacturing industry.

The resulting loose fill product can be used in loft spaces and wall panels to improve the thermal performance of new and existing buildings – keeping them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

“The loose fill product from this plant will represent a new source of raw material that is cheaper and offers better performance than fossil fuel derived alternatives, said Craig Bartlett, MDFR’s chief executive officer.

“It will facilitate the greater uptake of natural materials within the timber framed housing sector, particularly in the UK, where natural fibre insulation production will be possible for the first time.”

Of course, MDF is found in every home, office, and retail environment, but unlike other wood waste streams, no MDF is currently recycled.

MDFR estimates that over 80 million tonnes of MDF are produced globally every year with over one million tonnes being used in the UK alone. It is estimated that 600,000 tonnes (15% of all wood waste in the UK) of MDF enters the supply chain each year.

In Platts’ plant, solid MDF waste will be broken down into fibres and fire-retardant treated.

Mr Bartlett said there was no shortage of sources for waste MDF to service the plant.

MDF Recovery has done the market research work on the viability of such a loose fill wood insulation product, employing specialists to talk to potential users of the material.

“We are comfortable that there is more than enough demand for this first plant,” Mr Bartlett said.

“People are still moving across to off-site construction and the appetite for loose fill wood fibre insulation is growing.”

He said current products are coming from Europe and prices were high, giving an advantage to a UK-produced product with a shorter and simpler logistics/supply/ distribution chain.

Regarding performance specifications, a testing programme has been set up, with testing of the product in sample timber frame panels.

“This is in order to get the correct fill rate that avoids it slumping. We have researched the correct density for the product.”

The main machinery which separates the waste MDF fibres is being supplied by MDF Recovery. MDFR is researching the development of its own dryer, but it may use currently available dryers for this first product.

Because no rigid or flexible wood insulation boards are being produced, specialist panel-making equipment is not required for the project.

“Our ambition is to get into those other products in other parts of Europe and we are having lots of discussions,” added Mr Bartlett.


Mr Bartlett said this first project was just the start of MDFR’s ambitions.

“Sending waste MDF to landfill or incineration is clearly unsustainable for such a commonly used product.

“A problematic and expensive waste stream that is currently burnt or landfilled will be transformed into a high-quality, high-value product. Carbon will be embedded into building structures for 50+ years rather than being lost as greenhouse gas emissions during incineration for energy recovery.”

MDFR’s existing pilot plant has been used to optimise the process and host demonstrations for industrial end users.

“Our pilot plant successfully demonstrated the potential of our technology to meet the strategic marketing and supply needs of customers across Europe and beyond,” said Mr Bartlett.

“The award of funding from Innovate UK means that we can fine tune the recycling process, carry out modelling to confirm the technical and economic performance of the system and start building plant to operate at scale. This is a huge step forward for the company and the industry”.

MDFR’s proprietary process employs ohmic heating, a process already applied in the food processing industry, where the technology’s homogeneous heating profile allows high temperatures to be reached without charring.

Applying ohmic heating in MDF recycling is completely innovative, says MDF Recovery, as is using recovered MDF fibres in thermal insulation.

MDFR has to date been funded via a mix of UK and Welsh government, angel investor and industrial funding.

Before establishing MDF Recovery with co-founder Jim New, Mr Bartlett worked as head of Research & Consultancy at the UK Furniture Industry Research Association (FIRA).

In 2017, MDFR won the coveted TTJ Timber Innovation Award 2017. The company was presented with the award in London, beating off a host of impressive rivals to win the Product Development category prize.

MDF Recovery has secured patent protection for its technology across the whole of Europe.