This team of researchers (PT) at Amorim Group, the world's leading producer and distributor of cork products, has developed an efficient and environmentally-friendly method to maximise cork’s volume in order to attain significantly greater yields from the harvested material. Using only microwaves and water, it is the first technique of its kind that doesn’t require sophisticated machinery or use any harmful chemicals.
Only the original language version is authentic and it prevails in the event of its differing from the translated versions.
||Who doesn't love that wonderful sound! An absolute necessity for wine connoisseurs - the real natural cork! But for how long will this rare product continue to exist? The natural resources are limited while global demand is rising. Because cork doesn't only let wine breathe, the bark of the cork oak is an ideal insulant.
||The small country of Portugal is the largest global exporter. The Alentejo- region is famous for its cork oak woods. For more than 20 years the scientists Helena Pereira and António Velez have been studying one of Portugal's national treasures.
||IV Helena Pereira in Portuguese"A cortiça é a proteção da àrvore. É impermeável e isoladora. Tem propriadades mecânicas especiais derivadas da sua estructura celular e composição química. Epara além disso a árvore tem a capacidade de renovar a camada de cortiça se ela for retirada."Translation in English"Cork protects the trees! It is waterproof, insulating and has very specific properties which stem from its chemical cell structure. Additionally, this tree has the ability to produce new cork by itself as soon as the cork is harvested."
||The problem: the oak has to grow for 25 years before the cork can be harvested for the first time. From this point on the outer bark can only be taken off every 9 years.
||The only solution: you have to make the cork bigger than it is! If you increase its volume, the same amount of cork can be used to manufacture more products.
||IV António Velez in Portuguese"Até á invenção deste processo, os métodos que eram utilisados paras expandir a cortiça eram produtos químicos e altas temperaturas. Qualquer desdes métodos destruía a cortiça, criando elevados influentes, o que era prejudicial. Este novo método não cria nenhum destes problemas, cria uma cortiça igual a si própria."Translation in English"Up until the discovery of the new process there were two methods for expanding cork, either with chemical substances or high temperature. Both partially destroy the cork, alter it or leave behind harmful substances. The new method doesn't cause any damages, the cork remains the same."
||For decades the two researchers studied how cork reacts to various natural substances. António Velez demonstrates their ingenious discovery by means of a simple experiment: the cork is soaked and cooked in an industrial pressure cooker.
||If you irradiate the wet cork with microwaves afterwards, a amazing result is achieved.
||IV António Velez in Portuguese"O efeito das micróondas não é propriamente sobre a cortiça, mas sim sobre a água. As moléculas da água, sob o efeito das microondas, aquecem. Ao aquecer aumenta-se a pressão dentro das células e as células de cortiça são obrigadas a expandir, aumentando óbviamente o volume da cortiça."Translation in English"The effect caused by the microwaves does not impact the cork, but the water. The water molecules heat up, causing the pressure within the cork cells to increase through the heat. The pressure makes the cork cells expand and the volume rises."
||With this new process, the volume can be increased by 40 to 85 percent, while the cork thereby retains its natural characteristics.
||For this sustainable method, Helena Pereira and António Velez are nominated for the European Inventor Award 2013 in the category industry. A great honor for the two scientist and their home country Portugal.
||IV Helena Pereira in Portuguese"Portugal é o maior produtor mundial de cortiça e esta produção tem um papel importantíssimo do ponto de vista económico, do ponto de vista social e ambiental. Portanto, penso, que a nossa invenção pode contribuir para perservar e aumentar o papel social da cortiça."Translation in English"Portugal is the largest global cork producer. Cork plays an important economical, societal and ecological role. I am convinced that our invention will help to preserve the social role of cork."
||Not only for the two researchers, cork is far more than just industrial goods. Whether in the form of elegant handbags, modern jewelry or protective covers. The Portuguese love products made of their "cortiça".
||For cork, even footballs aren't out of bounds. If it is up to Helena Pereira, the natural product is going to play a much larger role in the future.
||IV Helena Pereira in Portuguese "A cortiça já é usada como sistema isolante de alto rendimento, por exemplo no space shuttle. No futuro poderá ser usada como absorvente de derrames de petróleo ou como absorvente de poluentes nocivos para o ambiente."Translation in English"Cork is already being used to great success in the insulating system of the space shuttle. In the future, it could be used for absorbing oil slicks or other substances harmful to nature."
||Wherever the cork's journey is headed, one thing is certain: thanks to the invention of Helena Pereira and António Velez, the supply of natural corks is secured for a long time. We shall all discover whether they win the "Technology Oscar", at the award ceremony on 28th of May in Amsterdam!