Programming Trees to Self-Destruct Could Save Energy

(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Mother Earth could benefit from the degradation of, oddly enough, one of her own, as scientists search for ways to deteriorate trees in order to improve industrial processes. New research shows that by weakening the walls of plant cells we can render them more susceptible to deconstruction during industrial processing, making procedures like pulping, paper-making, and biofuel production less wasteful and more energy efficient. To degrade plant structures, researchers redesigned the polymer that fortifies plant cell walls, lignin, using high heat and alkaline treatments to weaken bonds between molecules. The study, published last week in Science magazine, was a joint project of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, and the University of British Columbia-Vancouver.

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