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Fungal Enzymes Key to Using Woody Biomass in Biofuel

Fungal Enzymes Key to Using Woody Biomass in Biofuel

Global economies are growing due to the heightened demand of renewable energy in the form of solar, wind, and biofuels. With respect to converting woody biomass into biofuels, technology has struggled to develop a cost effective and efficient method of use, until now.

Biofuels Basics

The two most popular biofuels in transportation today indeed are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is a well-known alcohol and biodiesel is a combination of alcohol (usually methanol) and some biomass. The predominant use of ethanol is as a blending agent with gasoline to boost octane and reduce air pollutants. Biodiesel is mostly used as an additive that mitigates polluting effects or as a renewable fuel for diesel engines. Researchers are also investigating ways to produce transportation fuel from microalgae which can create biomass more effectively and with minimal effects on the environment.

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The process of converting wood into fuels so far is expensive and energy-consuming, and answer to these inadequacies just may lie in fungi. The cellulose in wood is difficult to break down which is one of the reasons why converting woody biomass to biofuel is so expensive. In nature, fungi have natural mechanisms to break down wood into energy. Researching these mechanisms uncovered fungal enzymes that contain copper and copper is now widely used in the process of decomposing other forms of biomass. These enzymes could potentially be used on a larger scale to convert woody biomass into biofuels. Scientists now believe that these discoveries have brought us closer to converting forest waste into a high value commodity.

Nature’s Packaging is committed to the use of North American sustainably sourced lumber on wood packaging. North American forests are sustainably managed and the increased use of sustainably sourced wood products contributes to the fight against climate change. Developing sustainable high value uses for wood waste from forest helps ensure that forests will thrive and continue to sequester carbon form the atmosphere.

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4 Ways to Prevent Bluestain

4 Ways to Prevent Bluestain

Bluestain is the most common type of fungi found in wood products that is commonly confused with mold. Unlike mold fungi, bluestain is not linked to human health issues. Bluestain is not airborne. Also, because the bluestain fungi do not digest the wood cell wall, they have minimal impact on the wood structural integrity. In other words, although it looks harmful, it will not decay the wood.

According to the report “Wood Discolourations & Their Preventions, with an Emphasis on Bluestain” there are two types of bluestain: deep and surface.

Deep Bluestain

Photograph by Wikimedia; distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Deep bluestain fungi are typically from the genera Ceratocystis, Ophiostoma, Grosmannia, Leptographium and Sphaeropsis that grow deep into sapwood causing dark blue or gray discoloration. The fungi attach themselves to insects that attack trees or logs, especially bark and ambrosia beetles, such as the mountain pine beetle. Any tree or log that is attacked by beetles is likely bluestained. Thus, if a tree has its bark intact, then it won’t be impacted. Trees and logs with damaged bark are also susceptible to be colonized by bluestain fungi. Once the bluestained log is converted to lumber, it shows long blue or gray streaks of color, hence the name “bluestain.”

Unlike decay fungi (or dry rot), bluestain fungi does not destroy the wood cell’s wall. Its impact on the strength of the wood is minimal and it will stop growing once the wood has been heat treated or it has a 19% or less moisture content. Because deep bluestain infiltrates the tree via insects prior to it being felled or as a log in inventory, not much can be done to prevent it from discoloring the wood. Some industries may try to chemically bleach impacted lumber but this is not a widespread industry practice.

Surface Bluestain

Surface bluestain is caused by similar bluestain fungi of the genus Ophiostoma, with Sporothrix or Pesotum anamorphs that invade sapwood after the logs have been processed through a sawmill into lumber. They don’t penetrate the wood deeply but cause discoloration in the wood’s surface that’s sometimes confused with decay mold. Bluestain does not destroy the wood cell’s wall to force decay. As with surface grown molds, these fungi can be removed from the surface of the wood by planing it.

Follow these steps to reduce the chances of fungi from impacting your wood packaging inventory.

1.    Keep it dry. Bluestain thrives in wood that has a moisture content greater than 19%. Keeping it dry and in low-humidity conditions will prevent it from growing. If your inventory is stored outside, tarps or paper wrap are useful, but make sure there are holes that allow for ventilation.
2.    Keep it ventilated. Storing wood pallets in an unventilated space creates ideal conditions for new bluestain growth, especially in warmer weather. If you must store your wood products inside, providing sufficient air ventilation will reduce the likelihood of bluestain.
3.    Keep it clear. Remember, surface bluestain transmits via insects. Ensure the area surrounding your wood products is clear of vegetation or debris that might harbor insects or pests that transmit bluestain.
4.    Keep it off the ground. A 6 to 8-inch elevation will ensure that the bottom layer will stay dry from puddles of rain that might form. This will keep your products dry.

Resources

Forest Health and Fungi

Forest Health and Fungi

Photograph by Wikimedia; distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license. Modified by CombineZP

Fungi are all around us. It’s estimated that there are at least 5.1 million different species of fungi in the world. One of the reasons why trees grow to be so large is that certain types of fungi pass vital nutrients to them underground that they might not otherwise have access to.

These nutrients help trees grow, allowing to them to sequester carbon from the atmosphere during their growth phase.

Forests Need Fungi

In forests, certain types of fungi play a very interesting role. Research scientist and mycologist Adnan Uzunovic notes,

“Fungi are very important for nature and forest as they are natural recyclers and many decay fungi do a very important job. Many fungi are present in forests have various roles in forest ecosystem. Apart from those that are recyclers, some are mycorrhizae fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants providing necessary nutrient to trees. A small minority of fungi are plant pathogens that can kill live trees or affect leaves and needles or cause cankers on stems and twigs, or cause root rots.”

When something in a forest dies, decay fungi help ensure those byproducts are reusable to other forms of forest life. In other words, they help ensure that nothing goes to waste. Mycorrhizae fungi, on the other hand, help plants in forests absorb water and nutrients. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates it formed from photosynthesis. It’s a symbiotic relationship because the fungus and plant help each other survive.

Trees Trade Resources

In 1997, Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver discovered one of the first pieces of evidence that Mycorrhizae fungi is capable of transferring carbon between a Douglas fir tree and a paper birch tree. It was later discovered that they also facilitate an exchange of nitrogen and phosphorus between plants and that when this type of fungi are paired with a tree, the tree’s immune system becomes heightened, allowing it to better defend itself from more damaging threats, like those from insects or beetles.

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