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 Reliable molecular toggle switch developed
30.03.2017 | Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT)

nachricht Researchers shoot for success with simulations of laser pulse-material interactions
29.03.2017 | DOE/Oak Ridge 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: A Challenging European Research Project to Develop New Tiny Microscopes

The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.

To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

'On-off switch' brings researchers a step closer to potential HIV vaccine

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

Penn studies find promise for innovations in liquid biopsies

30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine

An LED-based device for imaging radiation induced skin damage

30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>