Some recent revelations about the structure of wood may lead to producing everyday products that are lighter, stronger, and more renewable. They may even provide some important medical health benefits.
Wood is made of cellulose, an organic compound that is a type of a carbohydrate, made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Plants, especially trees, make millions of tons of the stuff daily through the wonder of photosynthesis, using just water and carbon dioxide as building materials. Cellulose is found in plant cells and provides structural rigidity to allow them to stand up straight and spread out an umbrella of leaves to collect sunlight energy. In the 1940s some Swedish scientists discovered tiny needle shaped fibers in tree cellulose called nanocrystals. Inside these fibers is a substance called nanocrystalline cellulose, or NCC for short. Some recent research by the forest products industry has shown that NCC may have thousands of potential uses. Things like stronger window glass, lighter aircraft, better paint durability, and so on. Those tiny fibers are stronger than steel, and can be used as the tree uses them to make materials rigid and durable while still being lightweight.
Another discovery, made by a Canadian 16 year old doing a science project of all things, shows that nanochrystalline cellulose has antioxidant properties similar to Vitamin C and E. But the crystals may be even better because they are more stable and potentially longer lasting in the body. So there is good potential for using NCC to fight diseases, cancer, and the effects of aging.
As a forester, the coolest thing about all this is the fact that this new material can be derived from the forest, a renewable resource. So no mining, no drilling, and no depletion of resources. We simply grow trees that also provide oxygen, pleasing views, and wildlife habitat. How cool is that?