Aardvark DailyNew Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 18th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.
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Wood is an interesting material.
One of mankind's very first building materials, wood has long been prized for its beauty, strength, abundance and variety.
In a world where we are increasingly reliant on hi-tech metal alloys, complex polymers and other exotic materials, wood remains the cornerstone raw component of many different industries.
And that's a good thing for New Zealand -- since we have some of the largest exotic forests in the world -- although to date, we've done little in the way of value-ad processing to our timber.
So maybe it's time for that to change and, if research conducted by The Forest Products Lab of the US Forest Service is any indicator -- timber might just be the next super-strong composite reinforcement.
According to this story, the cellulose nanocrystals found in timber can become a substance that is stronger than any existing metal, stronger than Kevlar, and even has a higher tensile strength than carbon-fibre or carbon nanotubes.
If our researchers are reading this then I suspect they ought to be starting their own investigations before the USA file for protective patents.
Given that right now, most of our trees are simply felled and shipped offshore as logs or turned into low-value products such as MDF and plywood, the opportunity to convert this massive resource into the new super-strong 21st century material ought not be dismissed lightly.
The race must be on to be the first to patent the processes and products that can be extracted from our investment in timber-producing trees. If the USA gets their first (as they probably already have) then they will make the majority of the profits.
This is just another example of why we really need to be working much harder to foster R&D in this country and build a sound knowledge-based economy.
If we were able to come up with a patented method for turning trees into a material that was stronger than any other contemporary reinforcement, the value of our forests would increase by a huge margin almost overnight -- bringing wealth to the entire nation.
Lose that race and we'll simply be forced to continue shipping logs to other countries where patent holders will add massive levels of value to that timber by way of extracting the cellulose nanocrystals.
Wouldn't it be ironic if the future of such industries as aviation, shipping, transportation and the like, ended up coming full circle. Having started out being largely reliant on wood and, in the 21st century, returning to that material for its continuing advancement.
I have to say that I've always been a "metal" man myself. Metalwork class was always more interesting than woodwork. When it comes down to the choice between making a magazine-rack or a jet engine, I'm afraid that the latter wins hands down.
However, it appears that wood is a long-way from dead.
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