London, Dec 28 (IANS) The use of a Christmas tree could soon go beyond the festive period as researchers have found that useful products such as paint and food sweeteners can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles used in the tree.
“The tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,” said researcher Cynthia Kartey from the University of Sheffield in Britain.
Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases which then contribute to the carbon footprint.
The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.
“My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash,” said Cynthia.
The new research showed that with the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles can be broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char).
The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries — glucose in the production of sweeteners for food, acetic acid for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.
The process is sustainable and creates zero waste as the solid by-product can be useful too in other industrial chemical processes, the University of Sheffield said in a statement on Thursday.
Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used, according to the researchers.