Is freshly cut wood biodegradable? (3 components of wood)

This article shall answer the question of the biodegradability of freshly cut wood.

In addition, we shall look into other areas like:

  • Types of woods.
  • Properties of woods
  • Applications of wood.
  • The composition of wood.

Is freshly cut wood biodegradable?

Yes, freshly cut wood is biodegradable. Wood is a natural, organic material that is acted upon by biodegradation agents such as bacteria and fungi.

Biodegradation is the process by which microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi break down organic tissue into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide, water, or methane.

Heat is also produced during the process of biodegradation and is lost to the environment. 

The main agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi. They break organic materials, using them as a source of carbon to make food and energy.

Microbes can use either oxygen or other chemical compounds to break down organic matter. When they use oxygen, the process is called aerobic biodegradation.

When microorganisms use any other chemical to break down organic matter instead of oxygen, the process is called anaerobic biodegradation.

The products of aerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and water. The products of anaerobic biodegradation are carbon dioxide and methane.

The biodegradation process occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and finally assimilation. 

Biodeterioration is the first stage of biodegradation that involves abiotic factors such as light, UV radiation, and water to help in the weakening of the structure of organic substances.

Bio-fragmentation is the second stage that involves the physical breakdown of organic matter into small particles, this is due to the biodeterioration of the organic matter in the first stage.

The last stage involves the fungi and the bacteria breaking down the small particles into even smaller biomass, producing heat, water, carbon dioxide, and methane, with the products depending on the type of biodegradation; whether aerobic or anaerobic.

What is wood?

Wood is the hardy part of the roots and stems of the plants which fall in the class Dicotyledonae, commonly referred to as the dicots.

The dicots are divided into classes based on their structures; the herbaceous plants which are annual and contain soft stems and the woody plants, mostly perennial and have woody stems.

The woody dicot plants contain in their structure called the cambium, this is the point where cells undergo secondary growth, forming secondary cells that develop into secondary tissues, forming the wood.

Woody plants include plants like trees, shrubs, or lianas.

The monocots, on the other hand, do not contain the cambium in their structures and therefore their cells do not undergo secondary growth. Instead of a Woody stem, the monocots contain a fleshy, succulent stem.

What are the properties of wood?

Wood contains the following properties.

  • The growth rings; are growth patterns of the secondary cells in the cambium.

Secondary growth forms tissues such as cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. Their growth pattern over the years is shown by the growth rings.

In some regions, growth rings are used to estimate the age of trees where each ring represents an annual growth.

  • Knots: Woods from trees contain some structures called knots. They come from overgrown bases of dead lower branches.

Knots affect the physical properties of wood such as strength and increasing splitting tendency.

  • Heartwood and sapwood: heartwood is formed by natural chemical changes in the components of the wood to make wood that is resistant to decay. Heartwood is also called duramen.

Sapwood is the outermost, younger part of the wood. It is a living wood; it is still growing and the cells are actively dividing. Sapwood helps the tree in carrying and distributing water from the roots to the leaves, taking over the role of the dead xylem and tracheid vessels.

What are the components of wood?

The wood structure contains different components that play vital roles in ensuring the wood structure is maintained. 

Wood is made up of the following materials.

  • Cellulose.
  • Hemicellulose.
  • Lignin.

Cellulose.

Cellulose is an organic polysaccharide that is made up of linear chains of glucose units. It is the most abundant organic polymer on earth.

Cellulose is the primary component in the structure of cell walls of plants, some bacteria, algae, and oomycetes.

Cotton contains the most amount of cellulose, followed by wood and hemp. 

Properties of cellulose.

The following are the properties of cellulose.

  • It has no taste.
  • It is odorless.
  • It is insoluble in water.
  • It is biodegradable.
  • It melts at high temperatures of 467⁰C.

Applications of cellulose.

Cellulose is used in:

  • Making paper, paperboard, and card stock.
  • It is used in making textiles since it’s the most abundant component in cotton.
  • Making drug fillers.
  • Making cellophane and rayon.
  • Used as a thickening agent in pharmaceuticals.

Hemicellulose.

Hemicellulose is a polysaccharide that is a derivative of cellulose. Unlike cellulose which is made of only glucose units, Hemicellulose contains other chemicals such as xylose, mannose, galactose, arabinose, and rhamnose sugars.

Hemicellulose contains shorter chains that are branched, unlike cellulose which contains long and branched chains.

Lignin.

This is an organic polymer made from units of phenolic compounds. It is a primary component in the support tissues of plants such as cell walls. 

Lignin is found in high concentrations in wood and bark.

Lignin is removed from the pulp to make high-quality papers.

What are the types of wood?

Woods are categorized into 2:

  • Hardwood.
  • Softwood.

Hardwood.

This wood is derived from trees in class Angiospermae; trees that can produce flowers.

The trees in temperate latitudes are usually deciduous; they shed their leaves in extreme weather conditions like during winter.

The trees in tropical areas like in congo and amazon basins are usually evergreen; the opposite of deciduous. They never shed off their leaves.

The hardwood trees contain pores but lack resin canals.

They contain annual growth rings, and in botany, these rings are usually used to estimate the age of the trees, the assumption being that every ring represents a year of growth.

They are more complex than softwoods, they have a slower growth rate, with some trees taking many years to mature. 

The hardwoods show a degree of variation in hardness, some trees such as yew are very hard, while others like balsa are softer than some trees in the softwood category.

Hardwoods are mainly made up of cellulose, lignin, and Hemicellulose. The lignin in hardwood differs from that in softwood, hardwood lignin is made up of sinapyl alcohol and coniferyl alcohol monomers.

Different hardwoods have different characteristics of density, grains, pore size, growth and fiber pattern, and flexibility.

Applications of hardwood.

The following are the applications of hardwood.

  • They are used in joinery.
  • Used in the construction industry.
  • They are used as a source of fuel, like in the burning of charcoal.
  • They are used in making musical instruments.
  • They are used in flooring.
  • They are the preferred source of fire for cooking because of their density and calorie volume and hence burn hotter and longer.

Softwood.

This is a type of wood derived from the trees in the class Gymnospermae; these are non-flowering tree species.

Softwood structure contains resin canals but they lack pores, which are usually found in hardwood.

The word ‘softwood’ may be misleading because there are those trees categorized as softwood but are harder than some of the trees in the hardwood category.

They are the most commonly used woods in the construction industry, and also they are the ones commonly used to produce paper pulps.

Some softwoods are resistant to insect attacks from woodworm because some insects prefer damp hardwood.

The following are examples of softwood trees and their uses.

  • Larch tree: it is used for boats and cladding.
  • Southern yellow pine: used for joinery, flooring, and decking.
  • Western hemlock: Used in making doors, joinery, and furniture.
  • Yew: it is used in interior and exterior furniture like chairs, gate posts, and woodturning.
  • Westerners red cedar: it is used for furniture, decking, cladding, and roof shingles.
  • Scots pine: it is mostly used in the construction industry for interior work.

Is wood eco-friendly?

Yes, According to a study, wood is one of the most eco-friendly materials in nature. 

It is biodegradable and therefore does not pollute the environment.

Plants producing woods; trees, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, therefore purifying the air.

Wood is a sustainable material because it can easily be produced from trees, which can be easily grown. 

Wood can also be recycled for use as a biofuel, reducing the use of petrochemicals.

Conclusion.

This article has answered the question of the biodegradability of wood.

It has also covered other key areas such as:

  • Types of woods.
  • Components of wood.
  • Applications of wood.
  • Eco-friendliness of wood.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is wood biodegradable?

What type of wood is biodegradable?

All wood is biodegradable. Wood is an organic material derived from trees. All organic materials are susceptible to microbial degradation.

Is wood biodegradable in water?

Yes, wood is easily degraded in water. Water seeps into the wood pores, breaking down the wood fibers which makes it easier for fungi and bacteria to break down the wood’s small fibers.

Can wood be recycled?

Yes, wood can easily be recycled into pulp for making paper, used as a mulch in gardens, or reused as a source of biofuel.

Citations.

Greenorb. ( May 2, 2021). Is Wood Biodegradable? Here are the Facts.

Retrieved from:

Roshina Jowaheer. (24 June 2018). 7 reasons why wood is the sustainable material you need in your home: it’s environmentally friendly and good for your mental health.

Retrieved from:

https://www.housebeautiful.com/uk/decorate/a21614875/wood-benefits-eco-material-home/

Record, Samuel James (1914). The Mechanical Properties of Wood: Including a Discussion of the Factors Affecting the Mechanical Properties, and Methods of Timber Testing. J. Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. p. 51. The term heartwood derives solely from its position and not from any vital importance to the tree as a tree can thrive with a heart completely decayed.

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