Wherever you are in the northern hemisphere of the world this month, there are few smells that most likely you will not be able to escape from – cinnamon spiced mulled wine, eggnog, hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies, crackling fireplace, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and pine trees.
When the smell of the latter fills our spaces, it gives us more than just the seasonal aroma. Fragrance of pine needles allows us to inhale the atmosphere of the forest indoors and instantaneously relax. When mixed with hot water, it serves equally well as a gentle relief for colds and congested sinuses. What is more, in the past, its aroma and flavour was brewed as a remedy for the jet lag.
With the on-going festive period and acknowledging all the aromatic properties of pine, this Material Monday we decided to make a special festive extended edition of the post and explore how the industry is creatively utilising this tree as a material.
For the context of the topic it is important to note that pine trees are the world’s main source of timber with about 600 million being cut down annually in EU alone. Majority of these are harvested for their valuable softwood and used in construction, furniture and paper making industries. However, timber is not the only element that could offer a precious resource to product design. With about 20-30% of pine’s body mass being stored in needles, many researchers and designers are beginning to acknowledge it and find relevant creative applications for it.
With this background in mind, please find below our selection of Top 5 Materials that can be made out of our festive pines:
1. PINE BIOPLASTIC by University of Bath
Caprolactone is a rubbery polymer often added to degradable plastics made out of corn starch (such as PLA) in order to make them more flexible. As this additive is only produced out of crude oil, some plastics promoted as renewable are not that eco after all.
This year, scientists from the University of Bath have shared their research on an environmentally friendly substitute to caprolactone, which can be obtained from abundant pine tree needles. Their work proposes to use pinene, a fragrant chemical that gives pines their distinctive scent and a by-product of paper industry, instead of the oil-based alternative to make a new range of bioplastics.
Should the researchers succeed, we could see their discovery revolutionise the chemical industry and reduce the reliance on the fossil fuels. Furthermore, it could offer a more eco-alternative to the growing needs of the food-on-the go industry.
2. COMPOSITE PANELS by Tamara Orjola
Latvian designer Tamara Orjola acknowledges pine needles, the waste created in the timber, furniture and paper-making industries. For her project titled “Forest wool” she experimented with standard manufacturing techniques such as crushing, soaking, steaming, carding, binding and pressing. In effect, she was able to create a composite panels and textile from which she created a series of stools and rugs. This project is a testament to the fact that premium feel products with elegant aesthetic can be produced out of natural materials. What is more, in this series the designer hasn’t used any glues or screws, at the same time achieving easier product recycling at the end of its valuable life.
3. PINE NEEDLE TEXTILE by Katharina Jebsen
Pine needles are constructed of dry exterior leaves and fine inner fibres, which are perfect for the textile industry. Large volumes of needles could be obtained from the vast wood industry, however, due to a challenging process to extract relevant threads, they have not been used in large-scale production. As turning this raw material into a useful form for the textile industry offers a range of opportunities, in her Master thesis designer Katharina Jebsen, carefully describes how to open up the needles and harvest this valuable resource. As her research proposes scalable and transferable solutions, we can only hope that in few years time this type of fabric will gain recognition and popularity.
4. PINE PAPER by Katharina Jebsen
Investigating what possibilities pine needles offer for creating surface materials for her thesis paper, Katharina Jebsen, was able to achieve aromatic paper out of pine needles. Adding natural dyes, she was able to achieve three colours of the sheets that ranged from light cream to dark brown as depicted on the images below.
5. PINESKIN by Sarmīte Poļakova
In contrast to the other experiments introduced in this article, Sarmite Polakova, a Latvian designer, turns the spotlight from the pine needle to the bark. In her work she discusses the value pines used to offer in the areas of medicine, food and shelter. She goes on to paint the picture how to the current uses and amount of the material that is being disregarded and burned off during soft wood production. Her project titled ‘Pine Skin’ explores the material and suggests that when properly processed Pine bark will have leather-like properties. It is stipulated that when treated with natural substances, the end product could have a lifespan of two years and making the decay a trendy and emotional part of the product experience. Images presented below, depict 4 applications made from one single tree and aim to stimulate a conversation on our relationship with trees.