From furniture to building parts, wood is so ubiquitous that we often take it for granted. However, this commonplace material has been used for millennia and plays a crucial role in our journey to achieve a circular economy. In fact, this versatile material can now be found in a variety of everyday items you might not know contained wood products, such as:
- Supercars. Yes, engineers in Japan have built a supercar from cellulose nanofiber — a wood-derived material that’s stronger than steel. The project was commissioned by the Japanese government as part of its efforts to cut emissions from car manufacturing. As reported by the World Economic Forum, the wood-based supercar weighs two times less than a traditional one.
- Chewing gum. Before relying on a synthetic rubbery material, chewing gum was traditionally made from chicle — a milky latex from the sapodilla tree. Ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs were among the first ones who enjoyed chewing it.
- Water filters. MIT scientists figured out a way to use xylem tissue from sapwood to create filters that can purify water. The wood-based filters were successfully able to filter bacteria and viruses from contaminated water.
- Car wax. The carnauba wax found in many car wax brands comes from the leaves of the Copernicia prunifera, a palm tree that grows exclusively in Brazil. It’s harvested by drying and beating the leaves.
- Skyscrapers. Architects and builders are all excited about wood as a building material that could substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with building tall structures. Not only are they more environmentally friendly, but timber skyscrapers can also be built faster and cheaper than traditional concrete and steel structures.
- 3D printer ink. Swiss scientists have managed to create an eco-friendly ink based on cellulose nanocrystals. According to the team, the material could be used for the 3D printing of implants and other biomedical applications.
- Aspirin. This ubiquitous medicine is based on salicin, an active ingredient that was discovered in the 1800s in the bark of willow trees.
- Sponges. A lot of eco-friendly dish sponges are made from wood-based cellulose. However, scientists have also used balsa wood to create an oil-sucking sponge that can absorb up to 41 times its weight — a property that could prove incredibly useful for cleaning up oil spills.