An innovative “smartwood” project is turning pulpwood into a material almost identical to tropical hardwood that is stronger and more environmentally friendly.
Researchers from the Flinders Centre for NanoScale Science & Technology (CNST) in South Australia 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 contains the same properties as tropical hardwood but maintains a stronger dimensional stability, making it easier to be moulded into furniture.
CNST Director and co-developer David Lewis said 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.
“There is a lot of wastage in current hardwood production. If you take a big tree only a small percentage of that becomes hardwood, the rest is chipped and burned.
“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.”
3Wood is made from a complete log – includes wastewood – and does not bleed out or stain nearby floors or walls.
3RT use a process known as lignocellulose manufacturing technology to compress softwood to create a new product that is denser, harder and more durable than the original.
During the process, ordinary pulpwood – which is cheap and accessible – is given a unique water-based adhesive that reacts with the fibres in the wood to make it stronger.
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.
TAFE SA has designed a table from the new product to help give the research team a better understanding of the properties and demonstrate its effectiveness.
Professor Lewis said by changing its form it was easier to manipulate the wood and shape into different products without the downsides of normal hardwood.
He said more materials could be added to the wood to make it termite resistant, UV light resistant, water resistant or fire retardant but those modifications were still being developed.
3RT managing director Peter Torreele said the availability of the new “smartwood” made it easier to reduce the carbon footprint of the manufacturing industry.
“There are a lot of materials with a very high carbon footprint, whereas wood has a very low carbon footprint,” he said.
“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.”
Torreele said 3RT were in discussions with various companies around the world to commercialise the product.
South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders University, University of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.
This article originally appeared at The Lead.