Pine needles from old Christmas trees could be turned into paint and food sweeteners in the future

Christmas tree
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Abandoned Christmas trees could be saved from landfill and turned into paint and food sweeteners according to new research by the University of Sheffield.

Christmas have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases which then contribute to the carbon footprint of the UK.

Cynthia Kartey, a Ph.D. student from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has found that useful products can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles when processed.

The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most .

Cynthia said: "My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash.

"Biorefineries would be able to use a relatively simple but unexplored process to break down the pine needles."

With the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles is broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char).

The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries—glucose in the production of sweeteners for food, acetic acid for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.

Cynthia Kartey explains how pine needles can be broken down and the chemicals obtained to create new products. Credit: The University of Sheffield

The process is sustainable and creates as the solid by-product can be useful too in other industrial chemical processes. Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used.

Cynthia continued: "In the future, the tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again."

The UK uses as many as 8 million natural Christmas trees during the festive period every year and sadly, about 7 million trees end up in landfill.

If pine needles were collected after Christmas and processed in this way, the chemicals could be used to replace less sustainable chemicals currently used in industry.

This could lead to a decrease in the UK's carbon footprint by reducing the UK's dependence on imported artificial plastic-based Christmas trees and a reduction in the amount of biomass waste going to landfill.

Dr. James McGregor, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering said: "The use of biomass—materials derived from plants—to produce fuels and chemicals currently manufactured from fossil resources will play a key role in the future global economy."

"If we can utilise materials that would otherwise go to waste in such processes, thereby recycling them, then there are further benefits."

"In our research group we are currently investigating the production of valuable products from a variety of organic wastes, including forestry sources, spent grain from the brewing industry and food waste; alongside investigating processes for the conversion on carbon dioxide into useful hydrocarbon compounds"


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Citation: Pine needles from old Christmas trees could be turned into paint and food sweeteners in the future (2018, December 27) retrieved 23 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-12-needles-christmas-trees-food-sweeteners.html
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Dec 27, 2018
"If pine needles were collected after Christmas and processed in this way, the chemicals could be used to replace less sustainable chemicals currently used in industry."

How can climate science be taken seriously when articles like this are published?

Do they have even the slightest idea how much energy would be consumed collecting the trees?

Dec 27, 2018
Also, here in Oregon there are at least 10 years worth of pine needles waiting for pick up, right now.

Being sarcastic now: just bring a rake and take all you can get.

Dec 27, 2018
"paint and food sweeteners" -yes, and the most expensive paint and food sweeteners on the planet, suitable only for govt contracts and renovating EPA offices.

"The Environmental Protection Agency violated spending laws by installing a $43,000 secure "privacy booth" in the office of Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Government Accountability Office has concluded.

"The soundproof booth cost $24,570 when it was ordered last August from Acoustical Solutions LLC in Richmond, Virginia. But site preparation and construction to reconfigure office space for the booth boosted the overall pricetag. It cost $3,470 to do concrete floor leveling, another $7,978 to remove closed-circuit TV equipment and $3,350 to paint. The total cost was about $43,000."

-Only the best for our bureaucrats.

Dec 27, 2018
Or curtains maybe?

"The left has reached full volume in its attacks on U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley over $52,000 drapes at her official residence in New York that were purchased by taxpayers. Student activist David Hogg is demanding she resign.

"Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., is furious, insisting on an investigation.

It's all because of a New York Times headline: "Nikki Haley's View of New York is Priceless. Her Curtains! $52,701."

"The only problem is that the curtains were ordered under the Barack Obama administration.

"Nikki Haley had "nothing" to do with them, which the article points out. Hogg was particularly off base:

"Dear Nikki Haley,
There are starving children in America...""

-So dems, hows that investigation going?

Dec 27, 2018
We have so many balsam firs in Michigan and Wisconsin, that every 10 square miles would have almost 10 million trees in some areas. We could get rid of the fire hazard all at the same time.

Dec 28, 2018
gosh otto, you know I hate it when I'm forced to agree with you!

The way you write it? Perhaps UN Ambassador Haley is being unfairly portrayed in the media.

Though, considering that she choose to lay down with GOP vermin? It is difficult to do more then smirk when she has to expend so much effort scratching the fleas & ticks.

Now. let's see. Whoever the UN Ambassador is? Has to deal with a large number of inquisitive espionage operations. The curtains have yo be able to try & disrupt eavesdroppers with all the super-duper spy tech sold to foreign nations by the GOP's financial supporters.

Remind me again. Exactly who would give a rat's ass for Pruitt's "Vital National Security" secrets?

Though I must admit, it is a pity that Pruitt did not talk his boss into installing a "privacy booth". The Bogus POTUS has been very careless with America's secrets. Between Prez Clueless private chats with Putin & his incompetency at telephony & tweeting his senile rants.

Dec 30, 2018
It's laudable they can find a new use for them, but they aren't real garbage, they are utterly biodegradable.

Dec 31, 2018
So let's build new regional xmas tree collection and conversion plants around the US for a few billion$$ which will remain shuttered for 11 months out if the year. To produce materials that are produced far more cheaply and competitively by other methods.

Is it possible that no one had the guts to tell the little black woman she had an idiot idea?

CKK
Jan 02, 2019
TheGhostofOtto1923

Your comments are rather too harsh but this is a process that works effectively with other forms of biomass as well and hence the idea is to process all forms of biomass waste including abandoned Christmas trees.

Other agricultural and forest wastes including corncobs and sugarcane bagasse are used in this research which works excellently. The story only captured pine needles because of the festive season.

Sorry to say you sound racist, which is very unfortunate!

Thanks,
CKK

CKK
Jan 02, 2019
Hi TheGhostofOtto1923

I am sorry to say you sound racist which is rather unfortunate!

CKK

Jan 02, 2019
Other agricultural and forest wastes including corncobs and sugarcane bagasse are used in this research which works excellently
WHERE does it say that?

WHAT it says is

"useful products can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles when processed... The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.

"Cynthia said: "My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure..."

-IOW a specific material.. from a specific source... during a specific time of the year.

What YOURE trying to do is make up bullshit to make it something that it isnt, and to make me out as a bigot to boot.

Which is foul and gutless.

Provide a source or youre a LIAR.

Jan 02, 2019
How about the needles from trees used to make paper?

Maybe we could use black people for compost. /sarcasm

Maybe that's the right thing to do with racists like @Blotto the Bugger.

Jan 02, 2019
One more thing

"Dr. James McGregor, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering said: "The use of biomass—materials derived from plants—to produce fuels and chemicals currently manufactured from fossil resources will play a key role in the future global economy."

-which encompasses a wide range of materials and methods, not to be confused with dr cynthias very specific research on a specific material.. from a specific source... during a specific time of the year... which would require dedicated resources to gather, process, and convert. And which would remain shuttered and unused 11 months out of the year.

Unless you can produce a source which says otherwise?

Jan 02, 2019
Hey there scheide

Sorry Im a little busy at the mo. Why dont you leave a message and Ill get back to you if its worth responding to?

Thats a dear.

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