Green innovation not always a sure market bet
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
It started as an optimistic idea: what if highway signs could be built from biodegradable wood products? In rural areas, where supply is near and are economies in need, what if forest waste could be reused in ways that fostered new jobs within the timber industry?
A scientist's foray into this green-leaning question illustrates the difficult gap between an eco-friendly concept and the realities of bringing it to market.
It's a story Lech Muszynski has told often, and hopes to tell differently some day. The Oregon State University researcher, an associate professor in the Department of Wood Science and Engineering, wanted to learn whether the fuels that accumulate on the forest floor – mostly small branches, needles, tree bark and dirt – could be ground and reused in wood-plastic composites after being cleared away by safety crews.
"There is little that is being done with this material. Originally it was just put in one place and burned right there in the forest where the weather was safe," he said. "Our idea was that this material could be used in products where the carbon is sequestered for a longer time."
The product choice seemed easy. The same state governments charged with burn prevention in forests are also charged with maintaining highways. And highway furnishings such as mileposts, signposts and sound walls are already made with wood-plastic composites.
Commercial wood flour is currently used as the wood ingredient, a ground wood product that's slightly finer than sawdust but coarser than flour. Its combination with plastic is a common recipe in consumer products like plastic decking, car ports and certain types of public infrastructure.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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