Renewable Liquid Wood: Arboform

28 July 2010 9,243 views 2 Comments

Imagine it’s the late 1990’s.  The Backstreet Boys are playing without a trace of irony on the radio and Bill Clinton is President of the United States.  People are using dial-up modems and AOL for their Internet and email needs.  In Germany, in Pfinztal near Karlsruhe, a group of scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology are inventing a renewable plastic that has wood-like qualities but can be cast by a machine.

Scientists Juergen Pfitzer and Helmut Naegele, working with Norbert Eisenreich, Wilhelm Eckl and Emilia Inone-Kauffmann found that lignin, a key ingredient in every piece of wood, can be “transformed” into a renewable plastic if it’s combined with resins, flax and other natural fibers. The resulting bio-plastic, called Arboform, can be thermoformed, foamed, or molded via injection machines.  It’s durable and super-precise when it’s cast, and it degrades similar to wood into water, hummus humus, and carbon dioxide (Nicola). 

Image courtesy http://www.tecmente.comuf.com/

130 million pounds of lignin are produced by the paper and pulp industry each year as a waste product of the paper-making process.  Manufacturers need to remove the lignin from cellulose in order to make paper white; they usually just burn it away.  Arboform diverts the lignin from the waste stream so manufacturers don’t need to cut additional trees to produce it.  Lignin could replace millions of barrels of oil that go into making traditional plastics.

Tecnarowas founded in 1998 by the scientists to produce and offer Arboform commercially.  In 2010, the company is “due to produce 275 tons of Arboform and several other biodegradable and renewable polymers it has developed over the past years.  Several products made of Arboform have been revealed, including baby toys, furniture, castings for watches, designer loudspeakers (Arboform has wood-like acoustic qualities), golf tees that degrade on the course and even coffins” (Nicola).  Car manufacturers are using Arboform for dashboards and interior designers are having it cast into small knobs and other intricate pieces that would be difficult to create with wood.

Image courtesy Tecnaro

Regular plastics “cost between70 cents and $3.20 per pound, the price for Arboform starts at $1.70 per pound. If the oil price continues to rise, then Arboform might even be cheaper one day. Its environmental price tag is already hard to beat” (Nicola).  I find the concept of this product exciting: they’re taking lignin out of the waste stream and using it to make useful objects that degrade harmlessly when they’ve outlived their usefulness.  Can’t beat it.


I’m filing Arboform under wood, because it is completely wood-like, and water, because it can be thermoformed and thus has characteristics of a liquid.


Nicola, Stefan. “German Company Sells Liquid Wood.” Spacemart.com. 11/20/09.  Accessed 07/28/10.  URL.

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  • Daniel Vaughn said:

    It degrades into hummus? Get me some pita bread with that degraded lignin!

  • Alli Dryer (author) said:

    Ha! I think I meant humus!

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