Engineers Create Biocomposites That Can Curb Global Warming
What we can do when we put our minds to it! Well, not "we," but a group of environmental engineers at Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment. They created an artificial wood, which is just as strong as the real thing, using biocomposites that are completely biodegradable. This faux wood has the potential of saving our forests, reducing green house gases, and actually shrinking landfills. Stay tuned... these researchers are on to their next big breakthrough.
But first, I'll just summarize the faux wood story. On a research grant from the Woods Institute, Sarah Billington, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, and her colleagues discovered that a material made from hemp fibers and a biodegradable plastic resin called polyhydroxy-butyrate (PHB) behaved just like wood. It could even be molded.
PHB can be produced faster than wood, and hemp can grow faster than trees, so the solution seems ideal from a production standpoint and an environmental one. The faux wood can be totally recycled into its original form for reuse and, if it is buried in a landfill (It must be buried because the faux wood degrades in an anaerobic environment.), it will decompose in just a few weeks, whereas wood scraps can take several years to recompose.
The Stanford team also noted that as the hemp-PHB biocomposites decompose, they release methane gas, which is a serious pollutant. But if the methane gas is captured instead of released into the atmosphere, it can be burned as energy or used to make additional biocomposites. Nothing is wasted in this process. You have to love it!
The next step for Billington and her fellow researchers is in bioplastics. The hemp-PHB combination can also be employed to replace the petrochemicals that are currently being used to make plastic bottles for water and other drinks. Additionally, the team is working on creating biocomposite insulation panels and manufacturing "green glues."
This is probably a silly notion, but I'm starting to imagine a world without landfills. Nah.