As one of the premier timber suppliers in Brisbane, we love keeping up on timber research. Most of it is mundane, but every once in awhile, we learn something important. This is one of those occasions.
Timber has long perplexed scientists because of its strength. Recent research, however, has shed some light on the question, “Why is timber so strong?” A team from the Universities of Cambridge and Warwick conducted research on nano-properties of timber that might have major consequences in the industries of energy and construction.
So, what is this big find? It is the binding, glue-like binding relationship between two of the most abundant substances in plants, cellulose and xylan. They are found in the cell walls of plants and have been found to be the reason timber and some other plant materials are strong and indigestible.
Plant materials are often used for biofuel and to feed animals, but woody materials are not effective for either. This was the original driver of the research. These substances also help make up fibre in other plants, which are good for gut health. For the researchers to understand how these components make fibre so difficult to digest, they needed to investigate how the contents are “woven” together in fibre and timber.
Cellulose is rod-shaped, while xylan is described as a “long, winding polymer with…sugars attached to its central thread.” These sugars are only on one side of xylan. When xylan interacts with cellulose, it is induced to unwind and attach itself to the rod-shaped cellulose molecules. This creates a bond that is resistant to all but the most extreme force or chemical disruption.
What it Means for Your Timber Suppliers
For us, it doesn’t mean a lot: yet. But it does open the door for a lot of advances in energy, agriculture and architecture. It is projected that this knowledge will help scientists create treatments to make timber for construction even stronger. It can also help scientists make it easier to make paper out of trees.