Back in an earlier post of this series (Wood Science 101 (3) - Lignin) we discussed the miracle of lignin and it's bright future in materials research and development.
This morning I was able to capture part of the progress of this ongoing science on video. Brett Diehl, a graduate student here at Penn State, has been studying the process of lignin extraction from various wood species. In the following video, Brett explains what lignin is, why he is studying it, and how the specific extraction process works. Here he covers the first part of the process, extracting what are called "extractives" from the wood in a multi-step process in preparation for the actual extraction of lignin. It is the final process of actual lignin extraction which Brett hopes to be able to improve upon.
Current commercial pulping techniques, which utilize pressure and harsh chemicals, beat the structure of the lignin pretty badly, resulting in low yields and quality, and therefore higher cost of the lignin. He hopes to be able to improve the lignin yield and quality in the laboratory, leading to possible similar gains in lignin extraction at the commercial level.
If Brett and others like him succeed, we may someday be finally wearing affordable Star Trek clothing made from lignin, and flying lignin-reinforced aerocars. If so, forest management will once again be noted for something other than wildfires.