Biochemicals and biomaterials can be made from wood

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Wood constituents have positive health effects

“Valuable constituents should be recovered from bark before it is utilised in energy production. Tens of percent of the dry weight of bark are made up of various useful compounds,” says Professor Stefan Willför, who heads the Laboratory of Wood and Paper Chemistry at Åbo Akademi University.

“The tannins of bark, for example, are powerful antioxidants and they are already being utilised in natural products. The bioactive constituents of spruce bark resemble the health-promoting and anti-ageing constituents of red wine. Betulinol, which gives birch bark its distinctive white colour, can be used as a pigment and it also has positive health effects.”

"Wood hemicellulose can be used as a stomach-friendly nutrition fibre, for example. Work to develop animal feed from hemicellulose has also progressed quite far,” Professor Willför says.

“Various kinds of process chemicals can also be developed from hemicellulose, which can, for example, be used to improve the characteristics of paper much in the same way as is presently done with starch. Other studies focus on the break-up of wood lignin into smaller parts and their assembly into entirely new kinds of biomaterials. These biomaterials and biocomponents can have new kinds of beneficial properties."
 
Legislation should favour biobased products

The prices of most biobased chemicals and materials as well as of their raw materials are still higher than the prices of alternative oil-based synthetic materials. This slows down the effort to commercialise new products. According to Professor Willför, a green image is nonetheless helpful for products. Another advantage is provided by the large material flows of the Finnish forest-based sector that enable the manufacture of new products on an economically viable scale. 

Willför challenges EU decision makers to develop legislation that speeds up the development of biobased products:

“At the moment, biobased chemicals and materials are unnecessarily subject to equally stringent treatment as synthetic oil-based chemicals with regard to, for example, the testing of new products. This is uncalled for in the case of what is, after all, a natural, wood-derived product.”