The story of Välinge Innovation AB, whose business concept is based on research and development of flooring materials, begins in the 1970s when the Swedish company Perstorp AB developed the world’s first laminate flooring. In practice, this is a fiberboard with a paper or resin-based decorative finish.

The new flooring material was designed to resemble a traditional wooden floor, which at the time was perceived as a minor revolution in the industry. Darko Perván was then Head of Perstorp’s laminate division and contributed to the development of laminate floor and the formation of the flooring company Pergo. Together with his son, Perván then started Välinge Innovation in the early 1990s. Initial staff came from Perstorp and Pergo.

Previously, parquet floors were glued to the subfloor.

One of the first breakthroughs and patents for Välinge Innovation was the development of the world’s first mechanical locking system (the system is called ‘Klickfog’) for wood and laminate flooring.

The Klickfog mechanical locking system works like a puzzle and a click sound occurs when the pieces lock into each other.

In 1996, Välinge and its licensee Alloc AS became the first company in the world to launch a completely glue-free laminate flooring system.

This innovation meant that around 100 million bottles a year of glue were no longer needed. This may be a sad story for the adhesive manufacturers, but the environmental advantages far outweigh this.

In addition to helping the world to say goodbye to millions of tons of glue, Välinge Innovation has developed a number of other concepts that have environmental benefits.

Patents for the recycling of laminated flooring

Over the past 30 years, billions of square meters of laminate flooring has been installed in homes and public buildings throughout the world. Over time, these get worn and style and design perceptions change.

Välinge estimates that over the next few years, many square meters of floor will need to be replaced. The company was founded in 2006 based on a research project around developing methods to recycle laminate flooring in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner. The method, presented in 2007, is based on the worn floor being mechanically crushed and mixed with a binding agent. The resulting material that can be used either as a powder or pressed and shaped into panels.

The recycled material can be used as the nucleus to a traditional laminate floor, or to form surface layers of powder-based floor (Wood Fiber Floor). In a life cycle perspective, these floors have a reduced environmental impact in several ways, including through lower energy consumption and therefore lower emissions of greenhouse gases. This recovery method is patented in the United States.

Powder-based flooring

A powder-based flooring (Wood Fibre Floor, WFF) has a surface consisting of a mixture of wood fibers, binders, pigments, and aluminum oxide. The result is a very hard and durable surface that can be embossed. The composition of the powder affects both the floor’s appearance and durability. For example, you can get a better wear resistance as more aluminum oxide is added, which would adversely affect the surface appearance on a traditional laminate floor.

The dry powder mixture is applied using a special sprinkling machine and the mixture is then pressed together in a conventional lamination process. By adding the powder in several layers, one can achieve different looks and characteristics. The technique makes it possible to create new advanced designs to resemble granite, stone and wood. In principle, almost anything can be depicted in the floor’s surface.

To meet the demand from the licensees of the new technology, Välinge plans to expand production capacity of the powder from about 3 million square feet of floor space per year to 30 million square meters per year. Välinge has two licensees today, Tarkett and Meister Werke, both of which have invested in production equipment to make WFF. Initially aiming to enter the top end of the laminate flooring market, Välinge is also setting its sights on the market for ceramic tiles. In the long term the company sees a huge market.

“We believe that the powder-based flooring in the future will replace the paper surface in most laminate flooring in all price ranges, just as DPL (Direct Pressure Laminate) replaced HPL (High Pressure Laminate),” says Darko Perván, currently CEO of Välinge Flooring Technologies.

Nano technology provides a better environment

Together with the Danish clean-tech company Photocat AS, Välinge has developed a method for mixing titanium dioxide particles in nano sizes in the different flooring materials, including the new powder-based floor.

A photo-catalytic process occurs in the presence of light, which along with humidity, forms OH radicals. These break down the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and make the floor surface hydrophilic. The latter property makes the floor easier to clean as water spreads out into a thin layer that dries quickly and leaves no traces. The new flooring material has been patented under the name ActiFloor.

Photo catalytic nano-particles are in other applications shown to produce materials with antibacterial properties. This is something that is currently being tested on new flooring materials.

Photo catalytic action decomposes the allergenic and irritant substance formaldehyde, which is often part of the flooring material, and which can also come from other sources. A recent example is a Danish store that installed ActiFloor in order to reduce exposure to VOCs and odors emitted by the plastic products they sell, such as plastic kayaks.

The target group for ActiFloor includes kindergartens, schools, health care institutions and office environments.

The article was published in October 2011