Inspiration from Mother Nature leads to improved wood

Oct 31, 2012
Inspiration from Mother Nature leads to improved wood

Using the legendary properties of heartwood from the black locust tree as their inspiration, scientists have discovered a way to improve the performance of softwoods widely used in construction. The method, reported in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, involves addition of similar kinds of flavonoid compounds that boost the health of humans.

Ingo Burgert and colleagues explain that wood's position as a mainstay building material over the centuries results from a combination of desirable factors, including surprising strength for a material so light in weight. Wood is renewable and sustainable, making it even more attractive in the 21st century. Wood, however, has a major drawback that limits its use: It collects moisture easily—warping, bending, twisting and rotting in ways that can undermine wooden structures. Some trees, like the black locust, deposit substances termed flavonoids into their less durable "sapwood." It changes sapwood into darker "heartwood" that reduces water collection and resists rot. The scientists used this process as an for trying an improved softwood that is more stable than natural wood.

They describe a process that incorporates flavonoids into the walls of the cells of spruce wood, a common building material for making houses and other products. The hydrophobic flavonoids are embedded in the more hydrophilic cell wall environment, meaning that the cell walls take in less water. Burgert and coworkers report that the treated wood was harder than untreated and more resistant to the effects of water, holding its shape better through changing humidity.

Explore further: New, more versatile version of Geckskin: Gecko-like adhesives now useful for real world surfaces

More information: "Flavonoid Insertion into Cell Walls Improves Wood Properties" ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/am301266k

Abstract
Wood has an excellent mechanical performance, but wider utilization of this renewable resource as an engineering material is limited by unfavorable properties such as low dimensional stability upon moisture changes and a low durability. However, some wood species are known to produce a wood of higher quality by inserting mainly phenolic substances in the already formed cell walls – a process so-called heartwood formation. In the present study, we used the heartwood formation in black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) as a source of bioinspiration and transferred principles of the modification in order to improve spruce wood properties (Picea abies) by a chemical treatment with commercially available flavonoids. We were able to effectively insert hydrophobic flavonoids in the cell wall after a tosylation treatment for activation. The chemical treatment reduced the water uptake of the wood cell walls and increased the dimensional stability of the bulk spruce wood. Further analysis of the chemical interaction of the flavonoid with the structural cell wall components revealed the basic principle of this bioinspired modification. Contrary to established modification treatments, which mainly address the hydroxyl groups of the carbohydrates with hydrophilic substances, the hydrophobic flavonoids are effective by a physical bulking in the cell wall most probably stabilized by π–π interactions. A biomimetic transfer of the underlying principle may lead to alternative cell wall modification procedures and improve the performance of wood as an engineering material.


add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Back-to-the-future process yields 'miracle wood'

Aug 08, 2012

A back-to-the-future technology, first used more than 100 years ago, has put a new form of wood on the market – a veritable "miracle wood" that resists the moisture-induced bowing, swelling, cupping, shrinking and cracking ...

Nanotechnology Treatment Protects Wood in Australia

Feb 07, 2005

Nanotec Pty Ltd based in Sydney, Australia announced today the start of the marketing of it’s wood protection product “Nanoseal Wood”. Nanoseal Wood is a water based, ultra hydrophobic, colloidal solution with self ass ...

Landscape tree disease from 12 wood decay fungi studied

Dec 30, 2010

Landscape trees, valued for their aesthetic nature and their environmental benefits, are becomingly increasingly valuable in urban environments. A single mature tree can add considerable value to commercial and residential ...

12 new flavonoids discovered in Kew tree

Jan 10, 2012

Scientists at Kew interested in the classification of legumes have been studying the chemistry of the Kentucky yellow-wood (Cladrastis kentukea). Evidence from DNA sequencing suggested that this species is ...

Warning on deterioration of famous Swedish warship, Vasa

Aug 29, 2012

The famous warship, Vasa, displayed in a museum that gets 1.2 million visitors every year and ranks as one of Sweden's most popular tourist attractions, is deteriorating despite ongoing preservation effort ...

Recommended for you

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

Apr 16, 2014

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...