As the transportation industry seeks alternatives to traditional materials like plywood, a new generation of extruded polypropylene (XPP) foam core is emerging, offering lightweight, high-performance, and easily recyclable monomaterial panels for applications in truck trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs).
Spur, a Czech Republic-based plastics manufacturer, recognized this growing need for lightweight, recyclable panels 5-6 years ago, leading to the development of their Hardex XPP closed-cell foam core.
Unlike other PP foam grades primarily used in automotive injection molding, Spur’s Hardex XPP targets sandwich structures with fiber-reinforced composite skins, a market often overlooked by larger plastics companies, as reported by Composites World.
“We too are a plastics manufacturer,” said David Pospisil, business manager for Spur, “but we saw a need developing 5-6 years ago for lightweight, high-performance panels that can be easily recycled. So, we started developing what is now our Hardex XPP (Extruded PP) closed-cell foam core.”
Spur has been producing XPP foam for lamination with PP skins in full PP lightweight panels used by Better Shelter for refugee housing.
“And the waste from this production we are upcycling into other products in our factory, such as kitchen profiles and edge bands for furniture. But we can definitely recycle the whole panel, even with skins using fiber reinforcement, back into an extrusion-grade material, which we are doing in-house,” said Pospisil.
Pospisil highlights the increasing demand for lightweight materials in trucks and trailers, with Spur’s Hardex XPP foam being rigorously tested for use in floors and sidewalls. The automotive industry, too, is looking for monomaterial alternatives to PVC and PET foam for easier recycling.
“With our material, you can produce a PP sandwich panel with PP skins and Hardex XPP foam core, fused together with thermal bonding. When you’re done, you can shred that panel and regranulate it into a material for extrusion. This is what we are doing now, so it’s proven technology,” said Pospisil.
In truck trailers, Hardex XPP foam core is paired with glass fiber-reinforced PP skins for a lightweight and recyclable solution. Pospisil notes that using heated double belt presses with cooling can help manufacturers produce these panels at a rate of 4 meters per minute, significantly faster than current production methods.
Regarding the durability of foam core panels in truck trailer floors, Pospisil said, “So far, we are confident that these panels will be able to resist the loads seen in truck floors and sidewalls, but this is what we are working through as part of various development projects.” If more resistance is needed, manufacturers can add additional layers or reinforce localized areas.
Replacing plywood with Hardex XPP foam in flooring panels can save 300-400 kilograms per truck trailer, according to Pospisil. Moreover, at the end of their life, these panels can be shredded, regranulated, and extruded as side fairings or truck skirts, contributing to a circular product and process chain for transportation companies.
Another significant market for lightweight, recyclable panels is RVs. Hardex XPP foam-cored panels can be used for sidewalls and furniture, offering lower weight and no moisture absorption.
These panels can be recycled and reused as edge trim in RV interiors and cabinetry. The potential for lighter weight construction also extends to the boat and yacht industries, where manufacturers may find these materials appealing.
As the RV industry continues to grow and adapt to the ever-changing demands of consumers, the adoption of Hardex XPP foam core panels presents a significant opportunity for manufacturers to create lightweight, environmentally friendly, and durable vehicles.
In addition to the obvious benefits of reduced weight and improved fuel efficiency, the use of these recyclable materials aligns with the increasing emphasis on sustainability that many consumers value. Moreover, the versatility of these panels – suitable for both structural and interior applications – allows manufacturers to streamline production processes and minimize waste.
By incorporating Hardex XPP foam core panels into their designs, RV manufacturers can position themselves at the forefront of innovation and sustainability in the industry, setting a new standard for environmentally conscious recreational vehicles.