Virtual Tour 4: Arboform, aka Liquid Wood

Our fourth outing together isn’t a museum, but a topical tour: Yesterday, I bought a hair comb when I went shopping; it looks like plastic, and it feels like plastic, but it is 100% biodegradable liquid wood. Having a curious mind, I came home and did a bit of research into the topic, so I thought I’d take you along on my discoveries.

Liquid wood, trademarked as Arboform, is a bioplastic made of natural ingredients, including lignin, which is the structural material found in plants and some algae, and cellulose, which is also a key structural component for green plants and algae as well as smaller organisms. The exact formula is a trade secret, of course, but the German inventors, Helmut Nägele and Jürgen Pfitzer, developed this thermoplastic in 1996, founded a company 2 years later, and in 2010 they won the European Inventor Award for their work.

Because of the properties that allow it to be melted and moulded like conventional plastic, its uses are limitless; but because it is made of natural ingredients, it is biodegradable – it can be disposed of in the ways wood could be, e.g. by burning or sawing, and will break down over time, as wood does. It may well transform the world of mass production and material sciences. What this product also does is use as a main ingredient a waste product from the paper-making industry – lignin.

The plastics industry created a huge problem that they never found a solution for, and they know it. But now, anything plastic can do, Arboform can do better. Literally. With more and more people trying to cut plastic out of their purchasing choices, this is the only logical solution to those who claim that plastic is the only alternative. Look around you right where you’re sitting: What plastic objects do you see? Speakers? Keyboard? A disinfectant bottle? Imagine every piece of plastic around you made from biodegradable products that, when you’re done with it, won’t harm the environment for hundreds of years afterward.

Below are a few examples of how it’s being used:

For a short tour of the factory, click the image below:

While Arboform can take care of the future, there is still the massive problem of the legacy of plastics that takes 10 minutes to drink a bottle of water out of, and 500 years to break down. There are other initiatives and efforts to clean up the environmental catastrophe; below are a few links if you’d like to learn more about the issue and how you can have an impact for the good.

No Plastic Waste

TED Talk: A radical plan to end plastic waste | Andrew Forrest

The Ocean Clean Up Project

Himalayan Life: Mountain Plastic Projects

2 Comments

Filed under Articles, Nature, Science & Technology, Virtual Tours

2 responses to “Virtual Tour 4: Arboform, aka Liquid Wood

  1. Progress! The problem remains: what to do with the plastic removed from the ocean (and everywhere)? Even repurposed, it’s still plastic and isn’t going away anytime soon.

    Great tour. Thanks!

  2. Yes, but if it can be repurposed into something more permanent, such as street pavement stones, it would remove it from randomly damaging the environment.
    In the Shetland Islands, we saw an entire boardwalk through a wildlife reserve that used what I assume were Arboform planks; they are weather-resistant and don’t rot like wooden planks would, and they were made with a grippy surface to prevent them being slick with Atlantic rain…

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