Material comparison between wood and glass fibre-reinforced plastic

Every day we come into contact with wood and plastic, but what is the difference between wood and glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GRP)? We have the answers.

Reading time: ca. 6:00 min.

What makes wood and glass fibre-reinforced plastic interesting as materials?

Both GRP and wood have advantages and disadvantages that must be taken into account during processing and maintenance. Wood is often appreciated for its looks. Its materiality gives it a homely appearance and creates a certain cosiness. However, wood is sensitive to moisture and pests. Glass fibre-reinforced plastics (GRP), on the other hand, offer the typical advantages of conventional plastics, but also exhibit greater rigidity and stability, which is why they are of particular interest for load-bearing lightweight constructions, for example. What similarities and differences do GRP and wood have, which sectors are dominated by which material and what makes wood and glass-fibre reinforced plastic interesting as a material?

From tree to construction - wood as a renewable raw material

Wood is generally understood to be the solid or hard tissue of a trunk or branch of trees or shrubs. A characteristic property of wood is the storage of lignin in the cell wall. Lignin is a macromolecule that causes the cell to harden. Wood is therefore often defined as lignified vegetable tissue. Wood is versatile and remains one of the most important plant products to date. More wood is produced worldwide every year than steel, aluminium or concrete. The special feature of wood: It is one of the sustainable sources of raw materials and energy, insofar as the amount of wood used does not exceed the renewable quantity. Furthermore, the ease of processing and the associated energy requirements for extraction and processing have a very positive effect on the ecological assessment.

Areas of application for wood

Wood is not a finite fossil raw material and this makes it quite attractive as a material. Wood is therefore becoming increasingly popular and is used in a wide range of industries. Wood is primarily used for constructive and insulating purposes in the construction industry, where the material is used as solid wood, glulam or in the form of wood materials.

Wood is very popular as an equipment material for aesthetic purposes. Tropical exotic woods or coloured hardwoods such as cherry are often used for this purpose. This is often criticised because deforestation of the rainforest is unsustainable and environmentally questionable.

Other areas of application include:

  • Structural timber construction
  • Vehicle manufacturing
  • Boat construction
  • Roof construction
  • Furniture making
  • Interior fittings, e.g. parquet, ceiling or wall panelling
  • Transport and warehousing, e.g. crates and pallets
  • Joinery products, e.g. windows, doors or stairs
  • Semi-finished products in the form of solid wood, such as boards
  • Semi-finished products in the form of wood materials, such as chipboard

GRP - beneficial composite on land, water and in the air

GRP is a composite made with glass fibre reinforcement and synthetic resin. Polyester or epoxy resins for example, are used as the basis for the composites. Glass fibre-reinforced plastics are relatively inexpensive and lightweight materials that can withstand high mechanical loads. They are characterised by the fact that they are extremely weather and corrosion resistant and have good elasticity. You can find further advantages and information on the manufacture and quality of GRP in our article "Glass fibre-reinforced plastic - a definition". Or download our free white paper on all the important basics: 

What makes GRP so special?

Glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GRP) is a composite material made of a plastic matrix and glass fibres. But what makes this material so special? Low weight with high mechanical strength, resistance to chemicals, corrosion and UV radiation are just some of its properties. Learn more in the white paper:

  • The most important properties of GRP sheets
  • The main advantages of GRP sheets
  • How to use the material profitably

Application areas of GRP

Above all, its the low weight in relation to its mechanical load-bearing capacity makes the material particularly interesting for use in vehicle and aircraft construction. GRP is particularly popular in caravan and motor home construction, as the composite can be used in a wide range of applications - whether as floor, wall or ceiling cladding.

Other application areas include:

  • Commercial vehicle industry
  • Bus industry
  • Construction industry 
  • Shipbuilding
  • Aircraft construction
  • Bridge construction
  • Container construction
  • Pipeline construction
  • Sports industry 
  • Medical and hygiene sector
  • Container industry

Wood and GRP: The comparison

Why wood and GRP are similar

At first glance, you probably consider wood and GRP to be two fundamentally different materials. However, there are still some similarities, especially in the construction of the materials. Adding fibres to the resin matrix gives the GRP elasticity behaviour, which can be direction-dependent depending on the type of reinforcement. GRP can also be reinforced in a variable direction-oriented manner by designing the fibres in a specific way. This makes the formation of cracks in the composite highly unlikely. As with wood: Although it can be easily broken along the cellulose fibres, it is very tough across the grain. Another similarity can be deduced from this: Both GRP and wood contain reinforcing fibres - glass fibres or cellulose - which are held together by a matrix, i.e. a composite or the lingin in the wood. Furthermore: Wood and GRP both consist of a polymer matrix and reinforcement fibres. The difference is that the polymer matrix in wood is lignin and the reinforcement fibres are of natural cellulose origin. In contrast, unsaturated polyesters and glass fibres are synthetic raw materials. In addition, both materials are not electrically conductive. GRP also has good thermal insulation properties and low density wood is also used in raw or processed form for thermal insulation. Wood with a higher density, on the other hand, has good acoustic insulation properties, like GRP and is used for sound insulation.