Wood in Weird Places
Canada’s forests are beautiful and abundant. Our country has been the world leader of the forest industry and traditional forest products for decades. However, it is not often we stop and think about where Canada’s wood products end up.
Most people think of forest products as mainly lumber, pulp and paper. With advancements made by the forest industry, there is a set of new bio-products on the way and they are being used in places you would never think of, such as the textile, health and beauty industries.
“One of the most interesting things about the forest sector is we’re a very dynamic sector, and over the last hundred years, we continue to do new things in new ways and lead the global innovation revolution,” said Catherine Cobden, Executive Vice President of the Forest Products Association of Canada, an advocacy group for the forestry sector. “We have an innovation agenda that continues to explore how wood can be used in these really unique ways.” We have come a long way from the days of wooden bathing suits and other strange wooden inventions. Take rayon, for example. It is a manufactured regenerated cellulose fibre that can imitate the feel of cotton, linen, silk or wool. Where does cellulose come from? It comes from wood pulp. The use of rayon could see a prosperous future, since there is a decrease in the global supply of cotton.
Cobden said the use of wood fibres in textiles is an interesting success story. Paper mills across the country were once closing because of little market demand for their product. Since then, mills have been refurbished to supply clothing for emerging markets in China and India.
Another industry taking advantage of forest product innovation is the health industry. Forest bio-products can be used in the coatings of some pills. The bio-active compound found in plants and trees could lead to new bio-pharmaceuticals and other bioproducts.
“If you had an Advil this morning and it was time-released, you may have actually had a forest product entering into your system,” said Cobden. “It’s a very unique and important way to use something from our trees.” There is still a surprisingly long list of products you wouldn’t expect to come from trees. Think of a dragonfly perched on a branch and the iridescent quality of its wings. Cobden said there is a new forest product to replicate this shiny property. This product captured the interest of the cosmetic industry, which could use the product in makeup, like lipstick.
This is all possible because of nanocrystalline cellulose. It is the crystalline form of cellulose, found in the cell walls of trees and other plants. Canada is the current world leader in the production of nanocrystalline cellulose.
“We’ve learned how to break the forest fibres down to these interesting new particles that unleash a significant array of new properties that you could never before have imagined as coming from a forest fibre,” said Cobden. “All of these forestry bio-products are going to serve Canada well, and quite frankly the world well, because they’re all based on a renewable feedstock,” she continued. “We don’t have to harm Mother Nature to do these things.”
Canada is a continuing global leader in producing wood bio-products. If this type of innovation continues, we could start replacing non-renewable products with these renewable bioproducts.
“It’s not the same forest industry that our aunts, uncles, or grandparents have worked in – it’s far more dynamic and an exciting place to be.”
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