Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The (re-)discovery of a versatile, multifunctional material

28.03.2012
For 75 years Empa has been conducting research on all aspects relating to wood.

Beginning with an investigation into the properties of various types of indigenous woods, today this has grown into a research area with many branches – from fundamental research on the structure of wood to chemically or biologically modified woods, novel wood fiber products and surface technologies.

Empa scientists examine each of the material’s properties in minute detail and use these results to develop next-generation techniques of utilizing wood such as in the areas of acoustic insulation and structural engineering.

In the beginning the focus was concentrated on research aimed at encouraging the exploitation of indigenous types of wood, according to Klaus Richter, who headed Empa's Wood Laboratory for many years and who now teaches wood science at the Technical University, Munich. In the early days, for example, new processes for the pressure-impregnation of telegraph poles were developed which significantly increased their useful life. Over time the field of research broadened, but the aim has remained the same, explains Tanja Zimmermann, Richter’s successor: developing innovative wood products which, in collaboration with industrial partners, can be economically exploited. This aspect is reflected in the new name of the laboratory, "Applied Wood Research".

Basic research and applied development at the same time
Exactly how this works in detail was explained by Ingo Burgert, professor of wood based materials at the ETH Zürich and simultaneously head of the «Bio-inspired Wood Materials» working group. Burgert is investigating the phenomenon of heartwood, which develops in trees after a certain age and frequently gives the material an enhanced durability. The professor is investigating questions such as whether it is possible to chemically modify wood after it has been harvested to make it harder and longer lived. Can one retrospectively fill wood with functional nanoparticles? Is it possible to construct composite materials of wood and carbon fiber? Francis Schwarze and Mark Schubert are also studying ways of altering the characteristics of wood in specific ways for particular applications, for example harnessing fungi which decompose wood to improve the tonal qualities for use in musical instruments, or utilizing enzymes to lend wooden surfaces completely new characteristics. This could perhaps make a wood surface resistant to fungus and bacteria. Another possibility is "self-adhesive" wooden chips for making fiberboard.

A range of interesting substances and materials can also be isolated from wood, one such being nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC), an extremely versatile material. Zimmermann's team played (and continues to play) a central role in the further development of this material, which can be used in fiber reinforced adhesives and lacquers, and to make intervertebral disc implants. Airtight packaging for the food industry is another application for NFC's – they are compostable and when burnt emit practically no pollutants.

From small to large
A more classical application is the use of wood as a construction material. René Steiger and Robert Widmann, two wood specialists from Empa's Engineering Structures Laboratory, have been investigating load-bearing structures made of wood such as glue-laminated timber beams, which they destroy by applying extreme loads and then repair using carbon fiber mats affixed with adhesive, for example. The building industry profits from these optimized repair techniques. Wood is of course inflammable, but how quickly does it burn and how long does it maintain its load-bearing abilities? What happens when wood burns from the inside? These are questions which Empa investigates in its Fire Laboratory. For instance, just in front of the flame front a large quantity of water vapor is forced through the wood.

As a result of further advances in the fire safety regulations in Switzerland, multistoried wooden buildings have been permitted in the country for several years now. This development raises new questions, though: how good is the acoustic installation in a wooden-shelled building? A team led by Kurt Eggenschwiler, head of Empa's Acoustics/Noise Control Laboratory has been studying this topic since 2011 with the help of a special lightweight testing structure which allows the scientists to investigate and evaluate the acoustic qualities of lightweight structures made of wood and composite materials.

Wood research–Empa's role in Switzerland
The symposium ended with a series of guest lectures, underscoring the important role which Empa plays in the Swiss wood industry. Martin Riediker of the Innovation Promotion Agency (CTI) explained the National Research Program "Resource Wood" project (NFP 66), initiated in 2010. The aim of this initiative is to better exploit ageing Swiss timber resources and to find new applications for wood. Christoph Starck of Lignum, the umbrella organization for the Swiss forestry and lumber industry, described how the results of wood research are applied in practice in the building industry. From Empa researcher to carpenter – everyone involved in dealing with wood is working towards the same goal, namely utilizing a sustainable, regrowable raw material in an optimal manner.

Dr. Tanja Zimmermann | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.empa.ch

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Decoding cement's shape promises greener concrete
08.12.2016 | Rice University

nachricht Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D
08.12.2016 | DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>