Research gets underway in NRP 66 "Resource Wood" - Using wood more intelligently

The challenges of climate change and increasingly scarce resources have catapulted wood, a renewable resource storing carbon dioxide, into the focus of science, industry and society. The National Research Programme "Resource Wood" (NRP 66) will explore how wood could be more widely used and develop the principles of a sustainable resource management.

In Switzerland, wood is primarily used as a building material and as fuel. Lately, it has attracted growing attention as a renewable resource that also stores the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) and has the potential to replace oil as fuel and basic chemical substance. Against this backdrop, the 28 projects of NRP 66 are setting out to show how wood could be used more intelligently in the future. Research focuses on three areas:

New approaches to timber constructions

One area focuses on the potential uses of wood in construction. The aim is to improve the material properties of wood. One research team is exploring how light-reactive substances, so-called photoinitiators, can be used to treat the surface of wood to improve its bonding properties. This process could make coated wood suitable for outdoor applications. Another aspect of the research is to try to improve the use of wood in building systems and supporting structures. One team aims to develop an optimised timber system for multi-storey wooden structures that is more resistent to earthquakes and strong winds.

Waste wood for biorefineries

In the second area, researchers are exploring various approaches to using waste wood as fuel or as a raw material for chemical substances. One research team is further developing existing technology to produce synthetic gas from waste wood, another is creating artificial proteins which will make it easier to extract lignin from wood. Lignin is used in the production of phenols and solvents.

New materials with wood

In the third area, researchers will develop technologies to create new materials on the basis of wood. One research team is developing a process to produce special wood boards with a foam core. They are lighter than standard boards and are particularly suited to flat-pack furniture.

Holistic view of material flows

If wood is to be used more intelligently, we have to go beyond broadening its applications and also study material flows holistically. By using so-called life-cycle analyses, two research teams are exploring how well suited wood is to replace, for example, oil and how the various applications can best be cascaded to maximise CO2 storage. Other researchers are developing strategies to improve the availability of raw wood in cooperation with representatives of the forestry sector. "We want to optimise the uses of wood without jeopardising other functions of forests, such as protection and recreation," says Martin Riediker, president of the Steering Committee of NRP 66. "NRP 66 is expected to provide basic knowledge that will enable policy makers, the wood industry and the forestry sector to set the right course towards an intelligent use of wood."