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rubberlead

Recycled Rubber

Background on Rubber

Natural rubber comes from rubber producing plants, wherein a milky white fluid, called latex, is extracted from the tree.  Though there are numerous plants that can provide latex, historically the most notable one has been the Hevea Brasiliensis tree found  in South America, and more recently from a commercial viability standpoint in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and on the Malay Penninsula, where current estimates are that approximately 90% of all natural rubber originates.

The rubber trees are “tapped” by making a diagonal cut in the bark of the tree, where the latex then slowly escapes via dripping, and is collected.  The average annual output per tree is approximately 5.5 pounds of the liquid.  Being that latex consists of approximately 30-40% rubber particles, 55-65% water, and then minor amounts of protein, sterol glycosides, resins, ash, and sugars, in order to extract the rubber from the latex it must be done through mechanical separation.  The latex is strained, mixed with water, and then treated with an acid to force the suspended rubber particles to congeal.  The congealed rubber is then pressed into thin sheets, and left to dry for further use and/or processing.

HISTORY OF RUBBER DEVELOPMENT

The first known use of rubber is hard to trace back, but it is recognized that the first use dates back to the 11th century when in Central and South America rubber was used to coat fabric to increase its’ water resistance.  Later in the 1700’s, a French scientist and traveler brought back rubber, from South America, to Europe, where the development of rubber really started to take off commercially.  In 1770 a British chemist by the name of Joseph Priestley coined the term Rubber.  In 1818, the first real commercial use of applying rubber to fabric was done, which was subsequently later patented by Charles Macintosh in 1823.  Also during this period in early 1820’s, a method to shape rubber was developed, and then in around 1850, Charles Goodyear discovered the process of vulcanization, where you heat rubber with sulfur, which crosslinks the rubber, decreasing it tackiness, as well as decreasing rubbers’ sensitivity to hot and cold.  In 1882, John Boyd Dunlop patented the pneumatic tire, bringing rubber to significant prominence.  This influx of demand for rubber, through the tire development, depleted the supply, leading the British to import rubber trees from South America to begin plantation growth, first in Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.   In the early 1900’s, much more scientific and chemical development was done on rubber to try to improve its’ properties.  This proved critical for Germany when during WWI their rubber supplier were cut off, and they had to begin developing synthetic rubber.  Then in WWII, the US was faced with a similar reality when Japan cut gained control of the majority of the Asian rubber supply destined for the US market.  In response, the US focused on its’ development of Synthetic rubber.  In 3 years, from 1941 to 1944, the US increased its own synthetic rubber production capacity by 10,000%.  After the war, many countries followed suit, developing their own synthetic rubber production facilities, to remove the reliance on others.

PRODUCTION OF NATURAL RUBBER

Growing natural rubber involves many steps, and numerous scientific disciplines to be merged together to provide a cohesive operation and plan.

  • Planting – Seeds are planted and grow for between 12-18 months before being suitable for grafting, after which they are removed from a nursery environment and planted on a plantation.  The bud quickly grows but the tree must be left to mature for between 6-7 years.
  • Tapping – Harvesters shave off a bit of bark, and then notch a line in the revealed bark to a depth of about 1/3” deep.  The milky white liquid, latex, drips from the cut vessels, and then flows down the barkless patch, where it is collected, typically in a cut mounted to the tree.  This tapping continues on alternating days, with new patches being cut just below the prior one, until the tapping is about a foot from the base of the tree.  Once that side of the tree is tapped out, a repeat effort is done on the other side of the tree.   Each tapping produces less than 8 ounces of latex before the barkless spot is covered with coagulated latex (much like a scab on a cut).
  • Liquid Processing – Once transported to the processing facility, the latex mixture is further processed into a concentrated liquid by removing water, effectively increasing the rubber content (to approx. 60%),  which is then supplied to factories for the use mainly in the adhesive and coating industries.
  • Dry Processing – Once the concentrated liquid is removed, the remaining rubber and latex mixture is treated with acid to congeal and coagulate, before be forced through a large extrusion dryer to remove all the remaining water, leaving just dry crumb rubber.   The crumb can be used as it is, or be further processed into sheets, slabs, placed into a mold, or can then be joined with other components/chemicals to further expand the potential uses (examples being steel reinforced tires, or latex surgical gloves).

SYNTHETIC RUBBER

Synthetic rubber  is made from two petroleum based unsaturated hydrocarbons, styrene and butadiene.  Due to the relative difficulty in the production of natural rubber (due to time and geographic presence of the plantations), synthetic rubber has reigned king for many decades.  Typically, synthetic rubber is developed for specific applications, and is specifically for those applications due to the process used to make them, and the resulting properties.

Future

The production of natural rubber has failed to meet the growing demand for rubber, and today two-thirds of the world’s rubber is synthetic.  Manufacturing developments, such as the invention of epoxidized natural rubber, may reverse this growing synthetic rubber trend, but at the same time synthetic rubber is benefiting from manufacturing developments that make the production more efficient, less costly, and with lower polluting effects to the environment.   Time will tell what happens within the rubber industry, but for sure, one main focus will be recycling rubber and finding new applications with the old material.

Though there are as many as 2,500 other plants that produce rubber, it is not made fast enough to be profitable. United States Department of Agriculture researchers are looking at ways to speed up the process by genetically engineering a plant to make larger initiator molecules. These molecules start the rubber-making process, and if such molecules were larger, rubber could be produced up to six times faster.

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bamboolead

Bamboo

Bamboo has come to be known as the quintessential “rapidly renewable” raw material. Though often considered a wood (due to its’ replacement of “timber” in many construction applications), it is in fact part of the grass family.   Bamboo has phenomenal growth rate potential, with some species growing at a rate of up to 6” a day, with maximum height of up 100’, reached in just four to six months.  Not only does it grow like a weed, it requires almost no outside influence to flourish, assuming it is being grown in optimal climatic conditions for the specific species.  Though there are over 1250 such species, the majority of them seem to have at least some commercial value, such as foodstuff, decorations, etc., while others could effectively displace timber in an entire product and manufacturing segment historically controlled by “wood”.    All in all, the value of bamboo as a raw material seems to increase on a daily level, as timber becomes scarcer and more testing is being done to show the benefits and intrinsic value bamboo provides from a structural, strength, and weight standpoint.

Main Bamboo product categories:

Current Bamboo Use:

Bamboo is probably the most versatile natural raw material used in the production of products. It is being used, or being tested for us, in almost every application where “wood” has historically been used, and this is from decorative and construction items to household utensils. A thriving food industry is also taking hold, as new manufacturing methodologies are being employed to broaden its’ applicable uses for ingestion. Bamboo textile and clothing use is also starting to ramp up its’ development, as some of the anti-microbial properties of bamboo are being realized for more technical applications and pursuits.

Bamboo Attributes/ Benefits:

  • Growth – bamboo grows much faster than any other species of wood, and can be grown in steep areas where little else can thrive. The root system of bamboo facilitates quick regeneration once it is harvested, and due to its’ inherent durability, it can withstand tremendous hardship.
  • Pesticide-free – bamboo typically does not need fertilization and/or the application of pesticides to spur its’ growth.
  • Strength – bamboo is extremely strong due to its’ cellular structure and makeup. Bamboo, at its’ core, is made of thin, parallel filaments that extend the entire length of the bamboo stalk. Due to this parallel nature, the bamboo filaments have tremendous strength, with a greater strength to weight ratio than hardened steel.
  • Use Flexibility – the beauty of bamboo as a raw material is that there are literally thousands of ways to use it. It is akin to “wood” in the sense that anything you can make with wood, you can make with bamboo, but it also has a long lineage of use as a food product, and more recently is excelling in textile and clothing applications. You can eat it, you can eat with it, you can eat on it, you can wear it, and you can live under it. There is literally not much you can’t do with bamboo if you so desire.
  • Waste stream – bamboo as a material provides a completely closed loop system. Every part of the plant can be used, and is practical to do so.
  • Carbon Sequestration – if water is the life-blood of the earth, bamboo ought to be considered its’ lungs. The carbon sequestration properties of bamboo far exceeds that of any other species , due partly to its’ abundance, but also to its’ fast growth. With the increased use of bamboo as a material, more carbon is trapped (more oxygen made), effectively helping clean the air of pollution and toxins.

Future Bamboo Use:

The future of bamboo is as bright as its’ past. There is a literally not a day goes by, when we are not contacted by someone else interested in assessing the use of bamboo in their products. The beauty of the material, beyond its’ shear applicable uses is the fact that it can be processed, reprocessed, added with this, topped with that, with the net result of making something unique and desirable. The market will dictate what is viable and what is not, but as a raw material, there is not one with a much better future than bamboo.

Hemp

HISTORY

Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is one of the most versatile plants known, both with respect to its’ potential uses and its vast geographic growth suitability.  Its use in the written record dating back over 6000 years, China was the main initial player with hemp, first using it commercially for rope, paper, and in clothing about 5000 years ago.  It wasn’t until the 1600’s in Europe that hemp really came in to prominence for use as a textile, when its’ wet strength and tear resistance properties became known.  Though it found its’ way into a multitude of industries, its’ main focus surrounded sea-faring efforts (sails, ropes, flags, uniforms, etc.), where its’ new found mechanical properties enabled it to excel.  In the 1700’s, the European textile industry took the hemp development further by mixing it with other fibers, such as flax and wool, to create hybrid materials.   As this was being done, hemp pulp was being made from the by-product of the hemp textiles, and used for making paper.  The hemp paper industry slowly developed until it came to a screeching halt in the mid 1800’s when paper making from wood pulp was developed.  This period highlighted the decline of hemp’s use, as other developments such as cotton spinning began to take market share in the textile segment, as did the inevitable development of synthetic materials starting in the early 1900’s.  These declines, coupled with marijuana prohibition, put tremendous pressure on the industrialized use of hemp.  It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that some of the prohibition bans against hemp began to be lifted, bringing hemp as an industrial material back into favor.

PRODUCTS:

  • Hemp SEEDS/OIL
  • Hemp PAPER
  • Hemp COSMETICS
  • Hemp TEXTILES/FABRIC
  • Hemp ANIMAL BEDDING
  • Hemp CONSTRUCTION USES

HEMP ATTRIBUTES/BENEFITS

  • Fast and robust growth: It can grow up to 20’ in height, and during that time anchoring up to 6’ of root growth in to the soil, providing tremendous benefit for soil erosion and earth stabilization.  In addition, hemp output per acre is 3x that of cotton (and at the same time, the cotton industry uses 26% of all pesticides used globally in farming, but only accounts for 3% of what is being farmed).
  • Pesticide-free: no pesticides or herbicides are needed to ensure hemps’ growth.
  • Strength: hemp is seven times stronger than cotton fiber.
  • Carbon Sequestration: Hemp, with its’ ability to be harvested 3 times a year, acts as a tremendous carbon sequester.  In addition when used in certain applications with a long life-span (insulation mats for example), the net carbon sink attributes increase.
  • Phytoremediation Potential: Hemp can deactivate (ie: render harmless) certain chemicals and toxins in the soil, a natural alternative to mechanical cleaning methods such as soil extraction or pumping polluted groundwater.

USES

Hemp is a tremendously versatile material, and can be used in the production of thousands of products, with the potential uses increasing almost daily.  Largely in an unprocessed state, hemp can be used as a food item, both directly as a seed item supplying critical nutrients, but also as oil.  Also, it has value as a by-product of its’ own waste stream when used to make textiles and fabrics, as the waste (called hurd) is used to make paper.  The use as insulative animal bedding is also a robust industry segment, as the hemp is over 7 times more absorbent than straw.  Hemp can be converted into bio-fuels, both for heating applications in pellet form, and through chemical pyrolysis processing to convert for use in the production of ethanol, methane, and other important industrial materials.

RELATION TO MARIJUANA

Hemp being a derivative of marijuana tends to get a bad rap out of the gates, unjustly so.  Though inherently being part of the same family as marijuana (Cannabis Sativa), it has very minor amounts of the active ingredient, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC; the amount less than 0.2% for hemp) that most are concerned with relative to it being part of the marijuana family.  In addition, hemp thrives on high density growth, much higher than is suitable for marijuana.  Due to the fear and political association hemp has to marijuana it is largely banned in North America.  If hemp could be incorporated in the a multitude of durable goods, it would lock carbon from being released back into the atmosphere, and at the same time, if it was valued for its’ industrial attributes relative to the fiber stack (and not feared), a whole new industry could be developed in conjunction with the increasing acceptance of marijuana as a viable and accepted medical treatment.  A recent study done in Europe has shown that medical marijuana growth can sequester 22 tons of carbon dioxide per hectacre.  If you consider that with suitable crop rotation (like leguminous crops like peas), you will get 2 harvests of the medical marijuana per year, which will bring the sequestration value to approximately 4400 ton per year per farm.  With carbon credits of between $30-50/ton, this will add between $130,000 -220,000 of revenue to a farmers’ yearly operation.  What is critical is that the carbon hoarding stalk material on the plants is not burned or incinerated, but used in other industrial applications.  Really, it is a win-win.

FUTURE USES

In 2007 at proceeding at the 4th International Conference of the European Industrial Hemp Association, it was highlighted that there is an increasing global interest in hemp raw materials due to other raw material shortages.  The consensus was that hemp will definitely play an integral role in the growing bioeconomy, as it is a viable substitute for use in many fossil fuel-based and petrochemical products, from industrial fibers, to biofuels (solid and liquid), to the budding segment of green chemicals.

In China, there are large growth rates for hemp in the paper and automotive industry, as well as a reinforcement fiber in window frames and in interior and exterior flooring and paneling products.  In Europe, much is being done with textiles and fabrics, as well as significant research is being conducted on short strand hemp for use in plastic as reinforcement.  This will not only affect the plastics used in the automobiles in the future, it will open up different potential applications relative to plastic, which will inevitably translate into a considerable growth of the amount of material in cultivation throughout Europe.  In North America, hemp has mainly been cultivated for the food industry, and this being done in Canada since industrial cultivation of hemp is the US is banned, but its’ use in bioplastic developments seems to be an area of strong interest.


glasslead

Recycled Glass

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Fusce tempus fringilla pulvinar. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Integer hendrerit velit ut dui porttitor fermentum. Nunc mauris neque, dapibus eget pellentesque non, euismod a nisl. Cras vel diam a nisi pellentesque dapibus eu sed nulla. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Phasellus nec dapibus est. Sed lobortis ipsum vitae nisi euismod tincidunt. Maecenas vitae lacus lacus, non condimentum tortor. Suspendisse porttitor dapibus mollis. Sed quis feugiat odio. Phasellus metus enim, pharetra ac tristique vel, vestibulum aliquet nisl. Cras dignissim iaculis ipsum, at adipiscing tortor volutpat vitae. Vestibulum bibendum aliquet ante vel imperdiet. Donec sollicitudin ultricies luctus.

Aenean ut lacus odio, non aliquet elit. Duis fringilla aliquam malesuada. Vivamus pellentesque lectus sed velit fringilla non adipiscing lacus dictum. Phasellus eget urna diam, eu vestibulum mi. In tincidunt, leo quis fermentum faucibus, mauris metus consequat tellus, condimentum tristique felis leo vitae quam. Suspendisse id mauris augue. Vestibulum nisl nunc, adipiscing eu viverra nec, tristique non libero. Maecenas laoreet cursus lectus, sed hendrerit diam aliquam a. Cras vitae diam a velit rhoncus ultricies vel eget lorem. Quisque blandit volutpat ultricies. Phasellus scelerisque velit eu magna accumsan non interdum diam malesuada. Proin dui lectus, fermentum id pellentesque eget, mattis ut nisl. Integer malesuada lorem eget velit bibendum hendrerit. Quisque pulvinar, nibh in facilisis aliquet, leo enim eleifend quam, sit amet congue metus sapien sed enim. Fusce nisl est, aliquam nec malesuada eu, vulputate sed ipsum. Cras neque risus, rhoncus non porta et, vestibulum et diam.

woodlead

Recycled Wood

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Fusce tempus fringilla pulvinar. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Integer hendrerit velit ut dui porttitor fermentum. Nunc mauris neque, dapibus eget pellentesque non, euismod a nisl. Cras vel diam a nisi pellentesque dapibus eu sed nulla. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Phasellus nec dapibus est. Sed lobortis ipsum vitae nisi euismod tincidunt. Maecenas vitae lacus lacus, non condimentum tortor. Suspendisse porttitor dapibus mollis. Sed quis feugiat odio. Phasellus metus enim, pharetra ac tristique vel, vestibulum aliquet nisl. Cras dignissim iaculis ipsum, at adipiscing tortor volutpat vitae. Vestibulum bibendum aliquet ante vel imperdiet. Donec sollicitudin ultricies luctus.

Aenean ut lacus odio, non aliquet elit. Duis fringilla aliquam malesuada. Vivamus pellentesque lectus sed velit fringilla non adipiscing lacus dictum. Phasellus eget urna diam, eu vestibulum mi. In tincidunt, leo quis fermentum faucibus, mauris metus consequat tellus, condimentum tristique felis leo vitae quam. Suspendisse id mauris augue. Vestibulum nisl nunc, adipiscing eu viverra nec, tristique non libero. Maecenas laoreet cursus lectus, sed hendrerit diam aliquam a. Cras vitae diam a velit rhoncus ultricies vel eget lorem. Quisque blandit volutpat ultricies. Phasellus scelerisque velit eu magna accumsan non interdum diam malesuada. Proin dui lectus, fermentum id pellentesque eget, mattis ut nisl. Integer malesuada lorem eget velit bibendum hendrerit. Quisque pulvinar, nibh in facilisis aliquet, leo enim eleifend quam, sit amet congue metus sapien sed enim. Fusce nisl est, aliquam nec malesuada eu, vulputate sed ipsum. Cras neque risus, rhoncus non porta et, vestibulum et diam.

plasticlead

Recycled Plastic

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Fusce tempus fringilla pulvinar. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae; Integer hendrerit velit ut dui porttitor fermentum. Nunc mauris neque, dapibus eget pellentesque non, euismod a nisl. Cras vel diam a nisi pellentesque dapibus eu sed nulla. Pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus et netus et malesuada fames ac turpis egestas. Phasellus nec dapibus est. Sed lobortis ipsum vitae nisi euismod tincidunt. Maecenas vitae lacus lacus, non condimentum tortor. Suspendisse porttitor dapibus mollis. Sed quis feugiat odio. Phasellus metus enim, pharetra ac tristique vel, vestibulum aliquet nisl. Cras dignissim iaculis ipsum, at adipiscing tortor volutpat vitae. Vestibulum bibendum aliquet ante vel imperdiet. Donec sollicitudin ultricies luctus.

Aenean ut lacus odio, non aliquet elit. Duis fringilla aliquam malesuada. Vivamus pellentesque lectus sed velit fringilla non adipiscing lacus dictum. Phasellus eget urna diam, eu vestibulum mi. In tincidunt, leo quis fermentum faucibus, mauris metus consequat tellus, condimentum tristique felis leo vitae quam. Suspendisse id mauris augue. Vestibulum nisl nunc, adipiscing eu viverra nec, tristique non libero. Maecenas laoreet cursus lectus, sed hendrerit diam aliquam a. Cras vitae diam a velit rhoncus ultricies vel eget lorem. Quisque blandit volutpat ultricies. Phasellus scelerisque velit eu magna accumsan non interdum diam malesuada. Proin dui lectus, fermentum id pellentesque eget, mattis ut nisl. Integer malesuada lorem eget velit bibendum hendrerit. Quisque pulvinar, nibh in facilisis aliquet, leo enim eleifend quam, sit amet congue metus sapien sed enim. Fusce nisl est, aliquam nec malesuada eu, vulputate sed ipsum. Cras neque risus, rhoncus non porta et, vestibulum et diam.

coconutlead

Coconut Palm

HISTORY

The Coconut Palm (Cocos Nucifera) is part of the palm family, and is found usually in sandy soils along the coastlines where salinity in the soil is the norm. They thrive in areas with lots of sunlight, regular rainfall (750 mm to 2000mm annually), and relatively high humidity (70%+ RH average). Though they can grow naturally in a number of locales, the majority of the commercial growth and production is in India and Sri Lanka. They can grow up to 30m in height, and on average produce between 50-100 coconuts a year (per tree) – after the first year of growth to maturity.

Coconuts have historically been a very important food source globally, providing many essential nutrients for numerous populations for thousands of years. Coconuts are highly nutritious, rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. In some island locales in the Pacific, inhabitants get over 50% of the nutrients from coconut derived food stuffs, and their belief that coconut is a cure-all for almost all illness has led to become known as the “Tree of Life”.

In addition to be used as a meat, milk, juice, and as a cooking oil, the coconut can also be further processed into a fibrous material, coir. Historically, the coir fiber was used in the boat building industry, as a material to lash (or join) various boat components together. In the Polynesian/Micronesia areas , they used the coir material for building tools, holding together weapons, and with other general construction efforts. It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that mechanization of the process was really started, with the development of defibering machine/process in India, which greatly increased the amount of material that could efficiently be processed.

PRODUCTS CATEGORIES:

Coconut as a raw material is used mainly for providing sustenance (food and drink), making fiber for a multitude of uses, and then is also used in decorative and curios applications.  The coconuts that you would buy in a grocery store are actually the single seed of coconut palm tree.  Before you see it in the store, it will have already been stripped of its’ hard skin and thick middle layer of fibrous pulp, coir.

Here is a list of common uses and product made from coconut, with additional information provided through the link.

  • Coconut as FOOD (meat, milk, juice, oil)
  • Coconut as FIBER (ie: COIR)
  • Coconut CURIOS

GROWTH AND MANUFACTURING

Coconut palms flower monthly and it takes one year for the fruit to ripen; therefore there are always coconuts in 12 different stages of maturity on the tree at any given time.  When the coconuts do not fall naturally, they are harvested in a cycle, and typically is done on a 45-60 day rotation, with each tree netting 50-100 coconuts a year, or between 7-15 coconuts per harvest.

  • Harvesting – either done by gravity (falling), are picked hand, or cut down using a knife.
  • Processing – Ripe coconuts are immediately husked to remove the fruit from the seed.  Those that are not yet ripe are left it bask in sun in a single layer on the ground until they become ripe.
  • Retting – moisture is added to the coconuts to help dissolve or rot away much of the cellular tissues surrounding the bast fiber bundles, helping the fiber separate from the husk.  This is done naturally with fresh water on the ripe coconuts, and with salt water on the green and unripe coconuts.  This natural retting process takes between 6 months for the ripe coconuts and 10 months for the unripe ones.  Mechanical retting is also employed in high volume operations, and is achieved by crushing the fibers after a short time of soaking, usually around 7-10 days. Dry processing of the unripe ones can also be done, but it only considered suitable for producing mattress fibers.
  • Defibering – separating the bristle fibers from the pith and outer skin, which can be done both by hand or mechanically through rotation inside steel drums.  Once cleaned, the fibers are laid loosely in the sun to dry.
  • Finishing – depending on the intended use, the finishing process varies.  They can be rolled into loose bundles, hydraulically compacted into denser bundles, baled for spinning into finer yarn, can be woven into twine or matting, or the fibers can be processed with supplemental treatments for other uses (such as sprayed with latex rubber, or heat treated with sulphur

FUTURE USES

As production technology improves in processing capabilities of the coconut material, it appears likely that development will be done in the area of the geotextile material.  As the use of synthetic and non-biodegradable textiles slowly decrease in a relation to the increase in environmental purchasing on a whole, coconut textiles will begin to turn up in street corner shops, again adding value to the natural fiberous material.  Another area of certain development will be in the use of the coconut material in both structural and decorative panel and plywood applications. By veneering thin sheets of the coconut fiber, and laminating one on top of another with a phenolic resin binder, it will prove that the coconut can be efficiently formed into panel products that can then be easily molded into whatever shape or form is desired, and hopefully at a price point where product designers opt for coconut in place of other, less sustainable options.

corklead

Cork

Cork is an inherently sustainable resource, being both biodegradable and renewable.  Cork material is harvested from the cork oak tree (Quercus Suber), but instead of needing to cut down the tree to source the benefit of the raw material as is done with the majority of all other wood species, the bark (or outer skin) of the tree is peeled off, and the tree is left to regenerate. The cork oak is a slow growing tree that can live from 170 t0 250 years, which enables the stripping and harvesting of the cork to occur 16 times during its lifetime on average. The harvesting cycle typically occurs every 9-12 years, but only occurs once the tree is allowed to mature from sapling to an age of approximately 25-30 years, at which time the trunk has at least a circumference of 70 cm.  This initial growth period allows the cellular structure within the tree to mature, so there are functional consistencies. Cork, as a raw material, is mainly small microscopic pockets of air encapsulated by the cork fiber lignin. This cellular structure gives cork products tremendous thermal and acoustic properties, as the air is acts as “insulation”.

One of the important sustainability factors of the cork trees are their Carbon sequestration properties and characteristics.  According to the World Wildlife Federation, a cork tree that has its bark removed every 9 years will absorb 3-5 times as much CO2 than a similar tree that is left idle.  The tree and bark stores the CO2, and then it accepts more as new growth occurs. Industry estimates show that the CO2-retention capabilities of Portugal’s cork forests are estimated to be as high as five per cent of the country’s annual emissions, or in excess of 4.8 million tons per year.

Main Cork product categories:

Cork Attributes/ Benefits:

  • Thermal Insulation – cork historically was used in refrigeration applications, such as in the walls of freezers
  • Impermeability – Since the inter-connected pockets of air are truly so tiny and microscopic, cork is considered impermeable, though at the same considered a breathable material which is desirable for the use of bottling wine.
  • Softness – the pockets of air compress and then expand again, never collapsing within the product core, giving the cork a resilience and memory. It has excelled for use as flooring due to the softness under foot, as it is often recommended for people with back pain who stand on a floor for an extended amount of time.
  • Design Flexibility – the beauty of the cork raw material is that it can be cut in numerous ways that enable veneers of differing aesthetics to be made into highly decorative surfaces. Cork conglomerate is a recycled cork material is also readily available, and often used in conjunction with veneers.
  • Buoyancy – Cork floats, and has been used as buoys, floating decoys, and as runners for pontoons and other water craft.
  • Slip resistance – cork, due to the softness and bounce-back, is very slip resistant, and has been used extensively on the deck of naval ships.

Current Cork Use:

Currently cork is being used mainly in the bottling, interior decorating, and lifestyle product applications. The reserves of the cork are increasing at a steady rate due to the growth of the cork plantation establishments. Though this fact is at odds with various wine manufacturers who need a reason to switch to alternate capping methods, the industry growth is profound and undeniable.

Future Cork Use:

The future of cork, and the growth of the industry, is open to one’s imagination. The use of cork in the bottling industry will undoubtedly remain strong due to the “enthusiast” belief that cork is better than plastic or screw tops. For interior use, cork use will also grow, especially with the increase awareness in “sustainable” and “green” construction techniques, the desire for people to decrease toxins in indoor environments, and the life-cycle benefits afforded cork interior products. Product development in the other segments will also invariably grow, as will new developments which will introduce new products to the market.