Deforestation is a bigger problem than ever, with people destroying ten million hectares of forest each year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
To address the issue, MIT researchers have come up with a new way to grow “wood-like plant material” in a laboratory, according to a statement, potentially paving the way for a new green source of lumber that does not harm existing trees.
Such timber could be used to build houses, make them more efficient or even grow eco-friendly furniture, say the researchers.
To be clear, the researchers have not yet figured out how to grow wood actually grown in the laboratory. But they seem to have made significant progress in developing plant-like material by cultivating the young leaf cells of the young plants of Zinnia elegans, a common decorative flower, using nutrients and two different hormones.
We will no longer build houses with forest wood
The material even has some interesting new properties, which could make it even more useful than real lumber. By adjusting the chemicals involved in its growth, the researchers were able to change the stiffness and density of the material and it can also be printed in almost any shape, using 3D bioprinting techniques.
“There is a lot of potential for expanding this and developing three-dimensional structures,” said Ashley Beckwith, a recent MIT doctoral student and lead author of a new study published in the journal Materials Today.
“The idea is that you can grow these plant materials exactly the way you need them, so you don’t have to do any subtractive production after that, which reduces the amount of energy and waste,” Beckwith added.
The team is now assessing whether the same method could be transferred to different species, such as pine, making it a potential alternative to cutting down trees.
“Trees and forests are an amazing tool to help us manage climate change, so being as strategic as possible with these resources will be a societal necessity in the future,” Beckwith said.