Waste is a terrible thing, particularly when it comes to the use of hardwood trees. The World Wildlife Fund says that about 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year. That’s a huge amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from deforestation.
David Lewis, Australia’s Flinders Centre for NanoScale Science & Technology (CNST) Director and co-developer, says “if you take a big tree, only a small percentage of that becomes hardwood; the rest is chipped and burned.”
But there’s hope on the horizon.
Researchers from CNST have collaborated with Australian company 3RT Holdings Pty Ltd to develop a method for converting cheap pulpwood into a highly sustainable tropical hardwood substitute. 3Wood, as it’s called, has the same properties as tropical hardwood but maintains a stronger dimensional stability and eliminates wastage.
3RT managing director Peter Torreele said the availability of the new “smartwood” made it easier to reduce the carbon footprint of the manufacturing industry.
Torreele says that almost 40 per cent of all logs in the world are being cut into chips for the pulp and paper industry.
“This 3Wood makes the harvesting of native forests, unnecessary. We are aiming to replace all applications where today hardwood would be used if it were available – furniture, floors, frames and there are other possibilities – it is endless.”
3Wood is developed using ordinary pulpwood – which is cheap and accessible – and then a unique water-based adhesive that reacts with the fibres in the wood to make it stronger. This process is known as lignocellulose manufacturing technology, which works to compress softwood to create a new product that is denser, harder and more durable than the original.
The wood is then exposed to a combination of temperature and pressure to form it into a rectangular shaped 3wood block with dimensions of 120cm x 13cm x 5cm (47.25 inches x 5 1/8 inches x 1 31/32 inches)
Torreele said 3RT is in discussions with various companies around the world to commercialize the product.
Lewis says 3Wood helped eliminate wastage and was a more environmentally friendly alternative to other products.
“We can manufacture blocks of wood out of pulpwood with the same strength as a 100-year-old tree but without the problems,” he said. “We use a glue to stick it (the wood-waste) together and reconstitute it, get it into one block and do it in an environmentally friendly system. Our adhesive is formaldehyde free.”
He said by changing its form, it was easier to manipulate the wood and shape it into different products without the downsides of normal hardwood.
This innovation, if funded and commercialized, could be a blessing for our few remaining old growth and second growth forests. We’ll keep an eye on this and keep our fingers crossed that it’s adopted throughout the industry.