Let’s face it – our lives depend on chemicals. And at the moment, most of them are fossil-based. There are chemicals in our laundry detergents and cosmetics, sure. But then there’s the stuff we don’t even see: the chemicals and plastics in the cars we drive and houses we build.
Petrochemicals are rapidly becoming the largest driver of global oil demand, surpassing even shipping and aviation. That must change.
Luckily, the same carbon molecules that once took mother earth millions of years to create can now be extracted from bio-based raw materials in a fraction of that time. One of the most promising ones is wood.
How do we get from fossils to wood?
By breaking down (that is, disintegrating and isolating) the particles in wood, scientists can extract specific components such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin – a tree’s natural binding agent.
All these components and many more can be used for commercial applications, replacing the same structures we have become reliant on in plastics and other artificial materials.
“It is exciting to learn how innovative use of biomass can give rise to materials with completely new structure-property relationships,” says Eva Malmström Jonsson, director of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in Sweden. The entire center is dedicated to trees, its halls swarming with dozens of researchers developing new materials from and uses for one of our oldest natural resources.
“As we learn more on how to disintegrate wood and isolate its components, and subsequently how to assemble them into materials, I am positive that there will be many new innovations well-suited for existing and future applications.”
Already, there are some truly remarkable solutions taking place on a major scale. Let’s take a look.