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2017-10-20

The future grows on trees

Transparent Wood, intelligent paper, packaging that can communicate and skyscrapers completely built out of wood. The list of new, high-tech materials, products and applications using forest raw materials as a base is a long one. Developments are driven by market demand, together with research and development. The result is new products and new functions in paper, packaging, sawn wood products and fuel.

Huge interest in transparent wood

Lars Berglund is a professor at KTH and director of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC, which since it was founded in 2008 has made a major impression in international research. The work at KTH is carried out in partnership with Chalmers University of Technology and is funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. The research focuses on how new materials can be developed from the Swedish forest, to complement traditional use in which trees are turned into timber and paper. Lars and his research colleagues have received most attention for their work on transparent wood.
“People from all four corners of the world have shown an interest, and architects, in particular, have been very interested because this is a material that opens up new opportunities for building homes. In the future, the wood could be used for solar panels and cladding. Transparent wood can also be fitted with built-in LED lighting and also act as a load-bearing structure in buildings. The vision from our side is to see the forest as a source of raw materials for a number of different products. When we started nine years ago, this view wasn’t very common.”

The forest is the way ahead for the sustainable society

At the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, we meet Torgny Persson, who has held the role of Research and Innovation Director for the past two years. One important goal in his work is to put in place a number of research and innovation programmes that support development. The Swedish Forest Industries Federation therefore works with several companies and research funding bodies, such as Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova, the Swedish Energy Agency, the Mistra Foundation and the Swedish Research Council, Formas.
“Forest raw material is exciting because we can do so much more with it than we do at the moment, creating materials that perform better than fossil-based raw materials and have completely different properties. This means that in many ways the forest is the way ahead for the sustainable society,” says Torgny.
Internationally, Torgny also works with the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020, and the European Forest Sector Technology Platform, FTP. While he is enthusiastic about new materials and products, he also highlights the importance of developing existing production methods and facilities.
"One of the most important aims of the forest industry's research agenda is to increase industrial wood construction in which modern glulam products and pre-fabricated functional solutions become the cornerstone of modern construction," Torgny explains.



Swedish expertise

At KTH, Josefin Illergård, Communication Manager at Treesearch, lists various examples of nanocellulose. A slow-flowing gel, puffs that look like popcorn, microscopic transparent balls and a piece of transparent paper.
"We have a lot of actors in Sweden with a vast amount of expertise between us. Successful partnerships will enable us to attain a bio-based future, in which the forest plays a major and important role," Josefin points out.
And who knows, in the not too distant future, we might possibly be able to admire the view through a window pane made of wood, listen to our milk packaging tell us it's almost past its best before date and take the lift up to the 18th floor in a building made of wood.


Text: Katarina Brandt 

Photo: Kristofer Samuelsson