Academic journal article Science and Children

Repurposing Pine Needles from Christmas Trees

Academic journal article Science and Children

Repurposing Pine Needles from Christmas Trees

Article excerpt

Abandoned Christmas trees could be saved from landfills and turned into paint and food sweeteners, new research shows.

Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles, which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases, which then contribute to the carbon footprint of the UK.

Cynthia Kartey, a PhD student from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has found that useful products can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles when processed.

Up to 85% of pine needles are composed of a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.

With the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles is broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char). The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid, and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries: glucose in the production of sweeteners for food and acetic acid for making paint, adhesives, and even vinegar. …

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