Trees are obviously vital to the printing and publishing industries, but they could well soon be vital in rather unexpected ways. The use of wood as a biomaterial beyond the conventional, is starting to change. For printers and publishers this has some interesting possibilities, ranging from furniture that can present digital versions of newspapers and magazines, through to roadsigns that appear to be part of a hedgeline or trees.
Engineers are looking at ways of replacing plastics based on fossil fuels with sustainable materials such as wood. Media could be electronically printed onto wood-based semiconducting polymeric surfaces, such as a door, desktop or table. New forms of wood fibre can be used in towels, mattresses and bedding, with no risk of splinters of course. Wall displays based on wood fibre are under development and these displays change their content according to people’s moods or the time of day. So no more looking out miserably of the window and a gloomy wet Thursday, because if you are feeling a bit low, the walls will automatically come up with something to cheer you. And then there are the massive advances in packaging that these technologies offer, especially for toiletries and cosmetics and foods.
The idea of replacing oil based materials with wood-based biomaterials isn’t so outrageous as it sounds. Thanks to new technologies there are many more ways of using wood. These can often offer new opportunities for delivering content, such as a newspaper printed electronically on the kitchen table. The sign and display sector is already benefitting from new variable data signage opportunities, however today’s digital displays are not sustainable in the way that their wood-fibre based equivalents would be.
Wood as the latest new media channel may sound a bit whacko, but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. It’s strong, durable (think breakwaters and ancient shipwrecks), renewable and biodegradeable. It can be used as a carbon capturing composite in construction, as a bio-plastic food coating and as a bio-foam for car interiors. The pharmaceutical industry is even looking at woodpulp derivatives for slow release medicines.
All of this is more than fantasy but to make it market reality depends ultimately on consumers and understanding the environmental impact of wood based alternatives. This will take time, but perhaps gradual improvements in general environmental awareness will yield results sooner rather than later. After all, trees are much better at carbon capture than pretty much anything else on the planet.
– Laurel Brunner
Verdigris supporters who make the blog possible: Agfa Graphics (www.agfa.com), Digital Dots (www.digitaldots.org), drupa (www.drupa.com), EFI (www.efi.com), EcoPrint (www.ecoprintshow.com), Fespa (www.fespa.com), Heidelberg (www.uk.heidelberg.com), HP (www.hp.com), Kodak (www.kodak.com/go/sustainability), Pragati Offset (www.pragati.com), Ricoh (www.ricoh.com), Unity Publishing (http://unity-publishing.co.uk) and Xeikon (www.xeikon.com)