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  • Cecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Environmental Health is Industrial Wealth


When attempting to manufacture quality products, do you want the best raw materials or substandard raw materials?

Chances are most manufacturers would prefer to source the best raw materials. Avoiding contaminated raw materials makes the manufacturing quality control process easier.

When we look at a wooden table or piece of furniture, we do not think about living organisms. We certainly do not think about living organisms when we burn firewood. Yet, wood comes from trees and woody plants that are both organic and alive before we turn them into commercial products. As living organic organisms, the growth ability of trees and woody plants is deteriorated when the environment is polluted. Deteriorated growth means both the quality and quantity of wood as a raw material is deteriorated.

We look for different properties in commercial wood depending on the use. Tensile strength, pliability, long burn time, reduced smoke. As we delve into lignocellulosic biorefinery and renewable biofuels, the quality and quantity of lignin is also important. As with any biological organism, the formation of cells and tissues in trees and woody plants is affected by the level of environmental stress and available nutrients.  

Most research available is focused on the environmental damages we need to avoid when producing commercial wood products (fine particulate matter, dyes, tannins, etc) as well as ensuring woody plants remain widely available. However, the flipside of the sustainability mindset requires us to also examine how environmental degradation affects the commercial quality of our wood products. Specifically, what is the total lifecycle commercial cost of wood products that use raw materials from woody plants grown in environmentally depleted conditions versus woody plants grown in environmentally optimal conditions? 

Here are a few research primers to get us started on this research pathway. 

Plant Structure & Function - provides an overview of the different organic components we should study 

https://sci.waikato.ac.nz/farm/content/plantstructure.html

Wood biosynthesis and typologies: a molecular rhapsody (2009) - examines tree physiology at a biomolecular level 

https://academic.oup.com/treephys/article/34/8/839/2446713

Association Genetics of Wood Physical Traits in the Conifer White Spruce and Relationships With Gene Expression (2011) - genetic mapping of the traits and properties that enable the formation and growth of wood in the conifer white spruce tree species 

http://www.genetics.org/content/188/1/197

Transcriptional regulation of lignin biosynthesis (2009) - an examination of lignin polymerization and biosynthetic pathways 

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.4161/psb.4.11.9875

Using the systems theory lens we know that everything is interdependent. In the case of trees and woody plants, it is not just a healthy climate and healthy soils that are dependent on healthy plant growth, the quality of our commercial wood products and renewable energy is equally dependent on healthy plant growth. 

Multiple researchers and perspectives are needed to answer the question on the relationship between woody plant health and the total lifecycle cost of commercial wood products.  

At CSTI we encourage everyone to use evidence based research to Explore the reactions in life and industry... 


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