Optimizing trees for a sustainable paper industry

2023-07-14 Lüneburg. In a paper now published in the renowned journal 'Science', Dr. Dr. Vania Zuin Zeidler, Professor of Sustainable Chemistry at Leuphana University Lüneburg, has looked at how the use of wood from genetically modified trees could have a positive impact on the more sustainable production of pulp and paper.

The wood of trees contains lignin, a polymer that is partly responsible for the stiffness and resistance of wood. For the production of pulp, this lignin has to be separated in a complex process that has a strong impact on the environment. Every year, the pulp and paper industry produces around 50 million metric tons of lignin as a by-product.

Recently developed bioengineering approaches could make it possible to create a new generation of woody biorefinery plants with lignin content reduced to only half. Their use in industry could ultimately lead to the need for fewer chemicals in the production of pulp and reduce the global warming potential produced by one-fifth.

The studies were carried out using poplar as an example. However, it was also shown that reducing the lignin content leads to reduced tree growth. It must therefore also be examined in the further course what effects this finding would have for the pulp and paper industry.

"Certainly, this is a relevant beginning for the discussion on the design, development and use of materials having great potential for global applications for wood improvement and avoiding pollution," Vania Zuin Zeidler is convinced, pointing out that it takes into account key aspects of Green and Sustainable Chemistry.

DOI 10.1126/science.adi8186