Lots of folks celebrate Christmas by stashing their presents under the same reusable plastic and aluminum wire Christmas tree every winter: it's a thoughtful, cost-efficient way to cut down on the amount of post holiday garbage that winds up in wood chippers or the local dump every year.
However, a lot of people still like to kick it old school with a cut-from-its-roots-and-left-to-slowly-die-in-a-pot-of-water conifer. They smell and look amazing…for a while. Once the presents have been unwrapped and the tree begins to brown, out the door it goes. Upwards of 30 million Americans wind up tossing out these Yuletide corpses every year. Happily, it looks like a scientist has sorted out a the means for making better use of these discarded trees once folks are finished getting their holly-jolly on with them.
The process involves breaking down a chemical called lignocellulose in needles of dead pine trees into a useful substance that could be used to make paint or artificial sweeteners and other wicked useful products.
Lignocellulose is ugly. No, really. Its chemical structure makes it difficult to use for biomass energy, and it serves little industrial purpose. Sheffield PhD student Cynthia Kartey's work has focused on examining ways to make use of this material, and now she may be on to something.
Using heat and glycerol, Kartey was able to break down the pine needles into two components, one of which was made mostly of materials like glucose, acetic acid and phenol. All three have uses in other industries — glucose is used to make food sweeteners, phenol is used in products like mouthwash, and acetic acid for making adhesives, vinegar, and even paint.