Wood is a material that has been gaining many proponents in today’s world. its benefits and properties are increasingly resonant in terms of sustainability and efficiency, often becoming a key element in the fight against climate change. as a result, it has been given greater emphasis in wood construction, owing to the fact that it will regrow and retain co2. this has begun to beg the question: can this material really be utilized in more and better ways? and this has indeed been questioned by ingo burgert’s research team at empa and eth zurich, who have been searching for that answer for years, with the goal of improving wood’s natural properties and usability.
The group’s latest piece, entitled “science of wood materials” expands new possibilities: “we’ve found a way to significantly improve the mechanical properties of wood, and at the same time, to make it even easier to equip it with new properties,” burgert tells madera 21. and this is where lignin comes in.
Wood delignification and compression
In the extraction of lignin, wood loses its characteristic color, and in its compression, it becomes a material three times stronger than in its original state. but what is lignin, and why should it be eliminated? lignin is one of wood’s three main components, and removing it ensures that wood’s long cellulose fibers are stabilized and do not bend. marion frey, a member of burgert’s team, explains to madera 21, “we utilized acid to eliminate the lignin from the wood, to then eliminate its natural adhesive,” obtaining white cellulose as a result. this material is very flexible when wet, since distributing water between the cells where lignin had provided stability dissolves cellular connections and guarantees deformability. when delignified wood dries, its cells interlace, a process which leads to stable compounds. upon the completion of this process, it undergoes compression, achieving its aforementioned threefold rigidity.
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