Bio4Energy researchers have found a set of compounds in the wood of trees that have “apparently been overlooked” until now, and which the scientists believe could find use as organic wax in cosmetics, candles or as agents in anti-inflammatory drugs. Not only this, but the discovery and mapping of these fat-loving substances might inform the pulp and paper industry on how to avoid problems with clogging of machinery in biorefineries.
The discovery by scientists at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), was unveiled last week as the prestigious Swedish Research Council announced it would fund a three-year effort to lay bare the ways in which these lipophilic compounds, found in the cell walls of trees, behave and interact with other components of the wood and how to extract them.
“These novel compounds are partially insoluble and partially contained within the extractives—the compounds that can reach ten per cent of wood dry weight”, professor Mellerowicz explained in an e-mail message to Bio4Energy Communications.
“The lipophilic compounds could… be used as a source of valuable natural waxes which are in big demand”, she wrote;
“The waxes are not only used in cosmetics and candle industry, but also in environmentally friendly packaging. Moreover, the knowledge generated by the project will enable technologists to design more efficient ways to circumvent problems caused by lipophilic compounds in pulp mills than those available currently.
“Thus, we foresee that the project will benefit wood biorefineries in two ways: by indicating ways of reducing damages to machinery and to pulp and paper caused by the lipophilic compounds, and by creating potential for developing side chains producing high-value added products”.
To carry out the project, the Bio4Energy team leading the project will draw on analytical and genetic resources of the Umeå Plant Science Centre, as well as the Swedish Metabolomics Centre and the Swedish NMR Centre. The first two are based at Umeå in northern Sweden at the joint campuses of Umeå University and SLU at Umeå, whereas the third is part of the University of Gothenburg, in the west of Sweden.