A New Approach to Transforming Waste Wood into Bio-Based Films

A New Approach to Transforming Waste Wood into Bio-Based Films

Wood waste, specifically lignin, has long been a challenge to process effectively. Traditionally, it has been burned to produce heat due to its difficult nature. However, a breakthrough study carried out as part of FinnCERES, the Academy of Finland’s flagship center for materials bioeconomy research, has developed a novel method to transform this waste material into a valuable carbon sink. By turning lignin into transparent films, researchers have opened up possibilities for anti-fogging or anti-reflective coatings on various surfaces, including glasses or vehicle windows.

Previously, attempts to use lignin nanoparticles for coatings have been unsuccessful, as the resulting films were visible due to turbidity. However, doctoral researcher Alexander Henn, the lead author of the study, aimed to address this issue by reducing particle size to a minimum. By using acetylated lignin and developing an improved esterification method, Henn successfully created lignin particles with surprising properties. These particles were less turbid, paving the way for the production of transparent films.

Apart from anti-fogging and anti-reflective coatings, the new approach also enables the creation of colored films from lignin nanoparticles. By controlling the thickness of the coating and utilizing multi-layer films, the research team was able to produce materials with different structural colors. Sahar Babaeipour played a crucial role in controlling the particles’ photonic properties, while Paula Nousiainen and Kristoffer Meinander provided their expertise in lignin chemistry and photonic phenomena, respectively, enhancing the team’s understanding of the results.

The feasibility study conducted by the team indicates that the reaction used to produce lignin-based films is efficient and boasts a high yield, making it economically viable for scaling up to industrial levels. Professor Monika Österberg highlights the commercial value of lignin-based products, which not only act as carbon sinks but also help reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate carbon dioxide emissions. This new approach to lignin utilization signifies a shift away from using it solely as a fuel and towards high-value applications.

The success of the study can be attributed to the multidisciplinary collaboration between researchers. Beyond the lab bench, the team included experts in techno-economic analysis, Professor Pekka Oinas, and doctoral researcher Susanna Forssell. Their contributions helped assess the economic feasibility of the reaction and added valuable perspective to the study.

The transformation of waste wood into bio-based films marks a significant advancement in materials bioeconomy research. The ability to convert lignin into transparent films opens up numerous possibilities for anti-fogging, anti-reflective, and colored coatings on various surfaces. Moreover, the potential for commercialization and the environmental benefits of this approach make it a promising avenue for reducing carbon emissions. As research in lignin valorization continues to progress, it is clear that innovative solutions can arise from turning waste into valuable resources.

Chemistry

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