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Technology

"Liquid Wood": A New Plastic That Grows on Trees

DiscoblogBy Nina BaiDecember 5, 2008 1:08 AM

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This holiday season, Santa's toy bag will again overflow with plastics. From Legos to Barbies to the Nintendo Wii, most toys today are made from non-degradable and non-renewable plastics derived from fossil fuels. Now a company is developing a bio-plastic that's made from trees. Could ARBOFORM, or liquid wood, cure us of our plastic addiction? Liquid wood is made mostly of lignin, one of the three major components of wood, the other two being cellulose and hemicellulose. Lignin is discarded during the paper-making process. A few years ago, researchers at the

Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology

in Germany took the lignin and combined it with natural fibers like natural fibers made of wood, hemp, and flax and natural additives such as wax to produce plastic granules. The resulting material was tough, melt-able, and mold-able, and has already been used to make car parts, hunting rifles, and golf tees. But there was one major problem: It stunk from the sulfurous substances that are used to extract lignin from wood and make it non-water-soluble. Now the company TECHNARO has created a nearly sulfur-free version of ARBOFORM that doesn't smell—and would be suitable for toys. To demonstrate the purity of the new material, they've fashioned a Nativity scene out of liquid wood. The company says the whole Nativity crew is 100 percent renewable and recyclable. Related Content: DISCOVER: The Dirty Truth About Plastic DISCOVER: Think You Can Live Without Plastic? DISCOVER: The Chemistry... of Plastics 80beats: Is Your Shower Curtain Toxic?

Image: flickr / kimberlyfaye

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