- Why Wood?
Global economies are growing due to the heightened demand of renewable energy in the form of solar, wind, and biofuels. With respect to converting woody biomass into biofuels, technology has struggled to develop a cost effective and efficient method of use, until now.
The two most popular biofuels in transportation today indeed are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is a well-known alcohol and biodiesel is a combination of alcohol (usually methanol) and some biomass. The predominant use of ethanol is as a blending agent with gasoline to boost octane and reduce air pollutants. Biodiesel is mostly used as an additive that mitigates polluting effects or as a renewable fuel for diesel engines. Researchers are also investigating ways to produce transportation fuel from microalgae which can create biomass more effectively and with minimal effects on the environment.
The process of converting wood into fuels so far is expensive and energy-consuming, and answer to these inadequacies just may lie in fungi. The cellulose in wood is difficult to break down which is one of the reasons why converting woody biomass to biofuel is so expensive. In nature, fungi have natural mechanisms to break down wood into energy. Researching these mechanisms uncovered fungal enzymes that contain copper and copper is now widely used in the process of decomposing other forms of biomass. These enzymes could potentially be used on a larger scale to convert woody biomass into biofuels. Scientists now believe that these discoveries have brought us closer to converting forest waste into a high value commodity.
Nature’s Packaging is committed to the use of North American sustainably sourced lumber on wood packaging. North American forests are sustainably managed and the increased use of sustainably sourced wood products contributes to the fight against climate change. Developing sustainable high value uses for wood waste from forest helps ensure that forests will thrive and continue to sequester carbon form the atmosphere.
Cogeneration is an efficient way to generate electricity. The conventional method calls for burning a fossil fuel in an enormous furnace to release heat energy, which is then used to boil water, which makes steam. That steam powers a turbine which drives a generator, and the generator is what actually produces electricity. However, the water used to make steam and drive the turbines must be cooled back down before being released into the atmosphere, which constitutes an enormous waste.
In cogeneration, the big energy savings comes from capturing the hot steam after it drives the turbines. From there, it’s piped to locations where it can be re-used to power turbines. Also called CHP (combined heat and power), cogeneration makes use of the hot water which is normally wasted and supplies it to local businesses and residences as a heat source. When CHP power plants are setup instead of conventional ones, they use different heat engines to produce the steam which drives turbines to be even more efficient, and create the maximum capture of energy.
A CHP power plant typically consists of an installation with an integrated power system that has three primary components: a unit which receives biomass and feedstock for preparation, a component for converting biomass into steam power generation, and the component for converting the steam into electrical power.
The materials used as input to the entire process are generally organic residues from forest production, coupled with food and fiber byproducts. These materials can include corn stalks, wheat straw, rice husks, sawdust, forest residue, and mill residues. Feedstock is considered to be those forests and grasses specifically grown for energy production, such as switch grass, hybrid poplars, and hybrid willows. In order to make the whole process to be economically viable, biomass sources must be relatively inexpensive to harvest, transport, and store prior to conversion into electrical energy.
Using forest biomass as a fuel source has great appeal because it makes use of materials that would be wasting away in forests and interfering with new growth. In many cases, one of the biggest expenses that Forest Management organizations incur annually is the removal of such forest biomass, as a means of reducing the number of forest fires, as well as the severity of such fires once they are underway. Putting that biomass to productive use constitutes a double savings – it helps to limit forest clutter and the fires which might result, and it can be used to fuel the generation of electricity.
All agencies and organizations involved with forest management are aware of the need to remove dead and fallen trees from forests as a means of reducing the likelihood of forest fires and of creating room for new growth. In the past, the removal of forest residues like this have been accomplished through harvesting and transporting to various landfills for incineration, or simply letting it naturally decay into the environment.
This approach has now been recognized as being extremely wasteful, especially in light of the fact that technology is now available for making advantageous use of all that previously discarded forest biomass. By making use of the forest biomass as a fuel source in power plants that generate electricity, a very useful end result can be achieved, rather than having that biomass simply dumped or burned at landfills.
As mentioned above, since forest management became a widespread practice, the need for removal of large quantities of dead or dying trees has been recognized. During forest fires, all the fallen trees and branches on the ground are catalysts for spreading fire and for intensifying it, so enormous effort must be expended to remove this clutter.
As an example of how forest biomass is good for the environment, the University of Northern British Columbia in Canada was exploring ways in 2007 to reduce its massive carbon footprint and be kinder to the local environment. Within two years, the university became the first one on the North American continent to own and operate its own biomass fuel generation system. The biomass input used to fuel the system comes from an agreement made with the Lakeland Mills sawmill nearby, primarily consisting of sawdust and wood pellets.
No fossil fuels are burned in the process of creating steam to drive the turbines that power generators for the electricity production, so the university has been able to achieve its goal of significantly reducing its carbon footprint, while at the same time having a reliable and efficient source of electricity. Other universities and businesses have followed suit since that time, using forest biomass as input to power electricity generation, and the big benefactor is the environment.
The nation of India has made a huge commitment to saving the environment by targeting a 40% share of its energy production from renewable sources by the year 2030. In addition to solar and wind power, another fuel source included as part of this strategy will be biomass that would otherwise have been wasted.
The Indian initiative will also have the benefit of reaching rural areas remote from major cities, which lacked power sources in the past. In at least some of these locales, power plants fueled by biomass will come into production as part of the broad commitment to carbon footprint reduction, and a big boost will be given to the environment.
Forest biomass is a valuable resources and like all wood products, it should never be discarded in landfills. Forest biomass can be used to make mulch, sawdust, and many other things and it will continue to be a renewable resource as long as forests are sustainably managed.
The need for the replenishment of our nation’s forests is critical to the overall conservation effort, and since forests provide so much oxygen for the atmosphere, they are also critical to the health and welfare of all living, breathing creatures. Woody biomass, which is comprised of all the excess fallen limbs, needles, etc. from dead or burned trees and it is constantly accumulating in forests around the world. Nanotechnology can come into play to help find a use for woody biomass because biomass can be processed into many useful things.
Nanotechnology refers to the science of researching the unique properties of materials at smaller than microscopic levels. By gaining an understanding of the chemistry and properties of the molecular elements in wood, scientists can find out ways which these properties may be used advantageously for new product development.
The promise of woody biomass nanotechnology also holds an enormous potential to transform the existing North American forest industry in every aspect of its current operation. Production processes can be improved upon, energy efficiencies can be gained, diverse products can be developed from paper and composite materials. Brand new products that are stronger and lighter than Kevlar and carbon fiber can be created from wood-based cellulose nanocrystals.
Previously, there has been very little market for decaying woody biomass on forest lands and with no high-value market for such material, it has not been economically feasible to remove or otherwise consume that biomass. Simply put, the supply of woody biomass is far greater than the demand. With the new uses of wood-based biomass being discovered through nanotechnology, those missing high-value markets are now becoming available, and woody biomass can be cleared economically from sustainably managed forests.
With woody biomass being reduced from over-vegetated forest lands, the risk of forest fires is vastly reduced, and since over half the budget for the U.S. Forest Service is allocated to fighting forest fires, management of forests would be much more cost effective. A great deal of property and even a significant number of lives would also be saved by lowering the incidence and severity of forest fires, which now ravage woodlands having excessive biomass.
At the heart of these two important initiatives – developing new wood-based products, and reducing the risk of forest fires – are the discoveries being made possible by wood-based nanotechnology. And an even bigger benefit from it all might be that the health of forest land would greatly improve once more biomass is removed. According to the U.S. Forest Service, there would be a better habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, and of course, once a high value market is targeted for woody biomass, new jobs would be created. With healthier forest lands throughout the country, the well-being of animals and humans also stands to be positively impacted, with a more oxygenated atmosphere enriching the air we all breathe.
There is a growing understanding and acceptance in this country about the huge role that woody biomass plays, both now and in the future, toward conserving resources and overall sustainability of the environment. The term ‘woody biomass’ references the totality of forest components such as trees, limbs, needles, wood wastes and residues, and even discarded wood waste from municipalities. Improved forest sustainability depends heavily on developing consistent uses for forest biomass.
North American forests represent a renewable resource, unlike fossil-based fuels which will eventually run out and be completely gone. Trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow and they continue to store carbon throughout their life cycles. This is a big factor in the need for making greater use of woody biomass in as many products as possible which are in some way, used by humans. In many European countries, wood-based fuels are already being substituted for fossil fuels, as heat and electricity is generated from woody biomass in the form of wood pellets. There are a plethora of other uses for woody biomass, such as mulch, paper products, and even clothing. The enormous diversity of products which can be derived from wood has yet to be fully capitalized upon, but important new discoveries are encouraged by governments and the scientific community.
For instance, in 2016, three teen-aged girls from Dubai invented a wood-based fireproof foam which can be used as an insulator for construction purposes. After the country experienced a rash of headline-grabbing fires, the girls researched them and found that they were all made worse because polystyrene foam insulation was used in the buildings, and it was discovered this material actually stimulated the spread and intensity of the fires.
The girls’ innovative wood-based foam creation is cheaper to make from wood, is just as good an insulator, it acts as a fire retardant. Plus, it is a sustainable solution. This is the kind of innovative thinking which can take far greater advantage of woody biomass to create useful solutions for the future that take advantage of renewable resources.
Woody biomass contributes in a number of other ways as well to the more efficient usage of our country’s resources. According to its website, the U.S. Forest Service removes tons of biomass from forests each year. In rural areas, woody biomass is often converted to energy, but other benefits of removing woody biomass from forests include job creation, reduced dependence on fossil fuels, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved drinking water, forest fire prevention, and improvement to wildlife habitat.
It is no exaggeration to say that the considerable positive effects imparted by woody biomass extend deep into the social, economic, and environmental aspects of life in this country, and that influence will be felt even more in the coming years. Within the framework of sustainability, woody biomass is a prime example of resources critical to the future of global sustainability and reduced carbon emissions.
For a great many years now, cotton has been touted as the ultimate fabric for the manufacture of all kinds of clothing, due to its natural, breathable composition and its comfortable feel against the skin. However, according to Waterfootprint.org, cotton farming requires the most amount of water in the apparel supply chain. In the case of making a single T-shirt, research from National Geographic estimates that 2,700 liters of water is required, from beginning to end.
In addition, it literally requires acres and acres of land to grow any significant amount of cotton plants, and a great deal of water is consumed in the nurturing of those plants. From this, it should be fairly obvious that any kind of new direction for the world of fashion is long overdue and that new direction seems now to have arrived, in the form of wood-based alternatives for the manufacture of clothing.
An Austrian manufacturer, Lenzing AG, has been developing environmentally friendly clothing for several years now, by converting eucalyptus tree pulp into a fiber which mimics cotton’s breathable nature, but is also far softer to the touch, and much less susceptible to wrinkling. In the year 2000, Lenzing was given a prestigious award by the European Commission, for its forward-thinking contributions to conservation of the environment in making wood-based clothing alternatives.
This wood-based clothing product is known as Tencel, and it is being adopted by more fashion companies around the world each year. Since the entire production process for Tencel is much less impactful to the environment, it has become one of the most popular new fabrics, especially for all those who feel a responsibility for the conservation of the global environment.
Other creative and environmentally friendly products are appearing as well, to contribute to this new direction of the fashion industry. A 17-year old teenager named Sian Healy recently became a finalist in the Miss England competition, while wearing a dress made for her by Pooling Partners, and which was entirely constructed from old wooden pallets. While this kind of special-purpose dress may not be economically viable for mass production, it does at least point out the possibilities for using wood-based materials as an alternative to the traditional ones used commonly in clothing manufacture.
In Culver City, California, another startup company called MeUndies, has developed a fashion line of men’s and women’s underwear, all made from wood pulp fiber which has the appealing property of wicking moisture away from the body. Called MicroModal, it uses beechwood rather than Tencel’s eucalyptus fibers, and is garnering strong appeal for its comfort and sustainable characteristics. Additionally, another fashion designer based in London named Alice Asquith has launched a line of towels, bearing her name, which are made from bamboo fibers and have far greater softness, durability, and absorptive qualities than traditional cotton towels.
Other startups are emerging around the world to take advantage of some of the wonderful characteristics provided by wood-based fabrics, which are much friendlier to the environment than some existing materials. Whereas plants like cotton are farmed with the intent of manufacturing clothes, wood-based based fabrics use wood by-products as their main ingredient. By developing effective uses for these parts of the forest that would normally go to waste, clothing manufacturers are doing their part to make sure that every part of a tree is used when it’s harvested.