The timber industry currently wastes huge amounts of precious wood by-products
like chips, shavings and sawdust that could otherwise be put to use. European
researchers, with the support of EU funding, are finding new ways to ensure every
little bit counts.
© Fotolia, 2012
In order to alleviate the depletion of the world's natural resources, it is crucial
to find ways of making better use of wood, without chopping down more trees.
FORBIOPLAST (Forest Resource Sustainability through Bio-Based-Composite
Development), a research consortium receiving 4,317,000 € in EU funding over four
years, may offer the solution.
They are examining how to use wood byproducts
as raw materials to make composite
There are many potential applications for wood
composites. Coordinated by the University of
Pisa, the 16 FORBIOPLAST partners are developing
innovative chemical and biological
processes to help change the way wood fibres
interact with polymers.
Carmaker FIAT, one of the FORBIOPLAST partners,
is looking at using wood fibres as natural
fillers to replace synthetic and glass fibres in
vehicle parts like seats, dashboards, and door
Europe's packaging sector, already under pressure
to reduce its use of plastics, is looking for
substitutes that are strong, flexible and adaptable.
Here, the research uses wood fibres as components
in biodegradable composite materials.
FORBIOPLAST is working on replacements for
cardboard or plastic boxes that carry items as
varied as cosmetics, detergents, fish, or eggs.
The project is also looking at applications for
the farming sector, like biodegradable
plant pots, tomato yarn
There are multiple challenges for the researchers.
For example, while the auto-motive
industry demands solid, durable products, the
packaging sector wants non-toxic, biodegradable
materials that can be composted or directly
in soil degradation. The experiments
involve different source material, with some
of the applications using olive oil waste water.
FORBIOPLAST aims to examine these challenges
and turn its research into eco-friendly
commercial applications, ensuring that we can
make the most of our forestry resources, without
It may be years before any wood composite
shampoo bottles or car seats are widely
available, but researchers are working to
bring them to market. Wood remains a
prized material, for its strength,
versatility and beauty.
But market prospects for wood composites
have spurred European researchers into finding
new ways to salvage what would otherwise be
considered wood waste. And there are wood
by-products readily available.
The global timber industry annually discards
hundreds of millions of tonnes of bark, chips,
sawdust, and black liquor from the making of
wood pulp. Some of these have already found
their way into engineered wood products
bonded together with resins, resulting in a
The more efficient and sustainable exploitation
of renewable natural resources such as forestry
residues and waste, will allow the European
economy to reduce its strong dependency on
fossil resources for the production of valueadded
products. Furthermore, new markets
for bio-based products have the potential to
generate new jobs and economic growth.