Research into seaweed applications are making wood varnish an environmentally friendly product. Credit: Pixabay

Research into seaweed applications are making wood varnish an environmentally friendly product. Credit: Pixabay

Benedict O’Donnell writes in the EU Research and Innovation magazine, Horizon, about research being developed on seaweed as a biological, environmentally friendly, sustainable, alternative to oil-based varnish for wood preservation.

The  NEXT1KOAT project, which was coordinated by Francisco Melero from the Technical Research Centre of Furniture and Wood (CETEM) in Murcia, Spain, involves extracting the raw materials from seaweed grown off the coast of Ireland and Scotland. “A series of chemical steps then transforms the biomass into natural alcohols that we can process into sustainable paints and varnishes,” he said.

In addition to benefits for the climate, these coatings present fewer health hazards to woodworkers and consumers. Furniture-makers using conventional wood coatings are obliged to work in well-ventilated areas and wear protective masks because the products are dissolved in toxic toluene.

As well as being safer, some of these new coatings and treatments can enhance the properties of wood, such as its ability to insulate.

M SORA, a window frame manufacturer in Žiri, Slovenia, has been working over the past years with the University of Ljubljana to develop better insulating window frames made of thermally modified wood.

With support from the EU-funded WINTHERWAX project, M SORA and its partners are now attempting to coat this thermally treated timber in a naturally derived wax to increase its lifespan. According to Dr. Aleš Ugovšek, the project manager at M SORA who coordinated WINTHERWAX, dip-coating the timber and heating it helps cram the wax inside its cellular structure. The resulting surface is highly hydrophobic and unappetizing to insects and fungi.

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