How To Spin Wood Out Of Straw

WILL LUMBER MILLS ONE DAY EXTRUDE TWO-BY-FOURS made from straw? Could be, says Wolfgang Glasser, a wood-science professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. He planned to present that possibility at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society on Mar. 24 in Anaheim, Calif.

Based on recent discoveries on how wood cells form, Virginia Tech researchers believe it may be feasible to bypass years of normal tree growth. Instead, just whip up a mix of lignin--the polymeric glue that holds wood together--along with the proper proportions of cellulose derivatives from almost any plant, and, given the right conditions, the molecules will automatically self-assemble into woodlike cells.

At this point, the research is still a laboratory curiosity. Nailing down all the variables needed for a commercial recipe that can turn straw into wood will take years of work, says Glasser.

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