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Wood Innovations Continue to
New Wood: A wide variety of new applications are being explored for wood from satellites to biodegradable packaging to jet fuel to wood-based plastics and much more. Find out how these new products could utilize wood waste and excess fiber.
Wood is Good and Has a Bright Future
Cutting-edge developments show how wood fiber and materials can be used as key ingredients or new building blocks for innovative products
Scientists and businesses continue to innovate new and unique ways to use wood material, which certainly bodes well for the future of the forest products industry.
Global concern about climate change and the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has put the industry in a strategic position to address those concerns. Sustainably managed forests can play a significant role in mitigating climate change because a healthy, growing forest absorbs and stores carbon dioxide in trees while releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. When the trees are harvested for forest products, the carbon stays stored in the wood for the lifetime of the product.
Innovative wood products are continually being developed. Many products that people use every day ¨C including bath towels, toothpaste, nail polish, medications, and paints ¨C are produced using components derived from wood. In addition, tall buildings are being developed with cross-laminated timber (CLT), replacing non-renewable building materials like concrete and steel. Woody biomass (chips, bark, sawdust, etc.) is being converted into sustainable biomaterials to replace harmful and toxic plastics and into biofuels, a renewable energy source.
Wood is increasingly being seen as an alternative material for many applications. For example, Modvion, builders of wooden wind turbine towers, have created new wooden wind turbines from laminated veneer lumber (LVL). Wooden wind turbines are not only light and strong, more efficient, and less expensive, but they can also be transported in separate pieces and built on-site, allowing them to be built higher, in more locations, and with more flexibility.
How about wood products in space? Sumitomo Forestry Group, a Japanese forest company, and Kyoto University plan to develop the world¡¯s first satellite made partially of wood. ¡°We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth¡¯s atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years,¡± said Takao Doi, a professor at Kyoto University and Japanese astronaut. Wooden satellites would burn up when they plunge back to earth without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground.
Kraft Heinz, maker of ketchup and other condiments, is teaming up with Pulpex to develop a paper-based, renewable, and recyclable bottle made from 100% sustainably sourced wood pulp. Heinz is the first sauce brand to test the potential of Pulpex¡¯s sustainable paper bottle packaging for its range of condiments. Governments banning single-use plastics, including grocery bags, food-service ware, and straws, are creating more opportunity for wood-based recyclable containers and packaging.
There is intense interest in working with and researching innovative wood products in furniture design, interior construction and architecture. Imagine this: a flat-packed piece of wooden furniture that gradually shapes itself into a chair or table. It¡¯s called HygroShape. Developed at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, the process enables layered flat wood veneer to bend into the shape of a stable chair or chaise lounge as it dries in the air.
¡°This innovative concept opens up completely new possibilities for furniture design,¡± said Ursula Geismann, home living analyst and executive officer of the Initiative Furnier + Natur, which represents the German veneer industry.
The Superwood initiative aims to save natural resources as much as possible. The composite material for furniture design and interior construction was developed by German designer Sofia Souidi in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research. Produced from recycled wood fibers and a biodegradable binder made of milk waste, the innovative material meets the highest standards for load-bearing capacity and stability.
The construction industry is witnessing a veritable boom in the use of timber. High-rises, stadiums and entire airport terminals are being planned and built in timber construction, demonstrating mass timber¡¯s potential in architecture.
Mass timber construction, particularly, is capturing the imaginations of leading building and design professionals, who continue to evolve and advance its potential. Mass timber is a new category of wood product that can revolutionize building construction. It is composed of multiple solid wood panels nailed or glued together, which provide exceptional strength and stability. It¡¯s a strong, low-carbon alternative to concrete and steel. New building code changes in some areas now allow mass timber buildings up to 18 stories tall. CLT wood panel construction is rapidly gaining popularity in the United States after being widely adopted in Europe. The material¡¯s strength, dimensional stability, and rigidity allow it to be used in mid- and high-rise construction.
ExxonMobil is expanding its interests in biofuels that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by acquiring a 49.9% stake in Biojet AS, a Norwegian biofuels company that plans to convert forestry and wood-based construction waste into lower-emission biofuels and biofuel components.
Biojet AS plans to develop up to five facilities to produce biofuels and biofuel components. The company anticipates commercial production to begin in 2025 at a manufacturing plant to be built in Norway. The agreement enables ExxonMobil to purchase as much as 3 million barrels of the products per year, based on the potential capacity of five facilities.
According to the European Union Renewable Energy Directive, biofuels produced from wood waste can help reduce life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 85% compared to petroleum-based diesel.
When produced, Biojet AS¡¯s biofuels can be used for passenger vehicles and heavy trucks. Additional opportunities for marine transportation and aviation may develop as the market for lower-emission biofuels expands.
An Israeli startup turns waste from sawmills into a super-strong material. The wood waste is molded like putty to create an array of household products. It¡¯s a healthy alternative to MDF (medium-density fiberboards), the mixture of wood fibers, toxic resins and wax that is used to create cheap wooden products like the cabinets and desks sold by IKEA.
Daika Wood, the Israeli company behind the innovation, uses a special process to mix wood waste from sawmills with water and other natural ingredients like cellulose and lignin, the material that makes wood rigid materials. The all-natural material is being used to create tabletops and wall coverings for office furniture company Steelcase, as well as screwdriver handles for Stanley Black & Decker. And the possibilities are endless.
¡°We take only natural ingredients, nothing coming from the petroleum industry,¡± said Michael Layani, Co-founder and CEO of Daika. ¡°Our material is like plastic ¨C it can flow and be molded into different shapes. Once it hardens you get physical properties that can compete with existing materials in the market.¡±
MDF is an engineered wood product that is usually bonded with formaldehyde, which is known to aggravate allergies, asthma, and cause other respiratory illnesses. MDF is also not strong or durable like solid-wood furniture; stains easily and is weakened quickly by heat, humidity, use and water exposure. It¡¯s not water-resistant, and can swell when exposed to it.
¡°We¡¯re not trying to completely replace plastic,¡± Layani added. ¡°It has its own benefits, such as water applications. There¡¯s room for both applications, but we¡¯re offering another set of products that can be sustainable, can have an aesthetic appeal, and be completely upcycled.¡±
A $20 million federal grant will expand the development of a University of Maryland-born wood product that¡¯s stronger than steel. The funding is for InventWood, a company founded by Liangbing Hu, a professor in the department of materials science and engineering.
The grant will fund research into scaling up the use of the company¡¯s MettleWood, which it describes as 60% stronger than construction-grade steel but 80% lighter, much less expensive and far more sustainable. The agency said the product would ¡°contribute to the decarbonization of buildings and enable built structures to store significantly greater amounts of carbon.¡±
MettleWood product is made by removing lignin, a natural ¡°glue¡± that holds the cells together, and extremely compressing the remaining wood to create a robust and rust-free structural material. It has the potential to replace steel structural beams, columns and connections.
Finally, Origin Materials, a carbon-negative materials company based in California, plans to spend at least $750 million to build a biomass manufacturing facility in Louisiana that will turn wood residue into a key chemical used in plastic. The plant will use sustainable wood residue to produce plant-based polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. The compound is primarily used in packaging, textiles and apparel. The plant is also expected to produce hydrothermal carbon, which can be used in fuel pellets.
All these cutting-edge developments show how wood fiber and materials can be used as key ingredients or new building blocks for innovative products. Given the implications of climate change as well as a renewed focus on sustainable product sourcing around the world, wood is good and has a bright future.