Cynthia Kartey, a Ph.D. student in the university’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering,argues that different products—including paint—can be made from the chemicals that are extracted when pine needles are processed.
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|Researchers at the University of Sheffield, in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, have recently found a use for pine needles beyond holiday decor.|
According to Kartey, about 85 percent of pine needles’ makeup is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose.
“My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash,” she said. “Biorefineries would be able to use a relatively simple but unexplored process to break down the pine needles.”
The structure is broken down into a solid by-product, bio-char, and a liquid product, bio-oil, which typically contains glucose, phenol and acetic acid, which is used for making paint and adhesives.
“In the future, the tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,” Kartey said.
Researchers say that the ultimate goal would be to use the chemicals to replace less sustainable substances used in the industry.
“The use of biomass—materials derived from plants—to produce fuels and chemicals currently manufactured from fossil resources will play a key role in the future global economy,” said James McGregor, senior lecturer in the department.
“If we can utilize materials that would otherwise go to waste in such processes, thereby recycling them, then there are further benefits.”
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