Know Your Wisconsin: Cellulose Products

Air Date: 08/15/2020 -

Forest products are all around us. Some products are obvious, while others may take you by surprise. At the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, researchers are constantly studying the ways in which forest products can be used. One common byproduct of trees that can be found in numerous consumer products is cellulose. Dr. Carl Houtman, Chemical Engineer for the USDA Forest Products Laboratory explains, “Trees are an amazing thing, they really provide an amazing range of products for us that we sometimes don’t even think about. Cellulose is one of the fundamental building blocks of trees. Part of the reason cellulose is really useful is that its kind of like molecular Velcro. So, it actually is the element of the wood that really provides the strength.”

The most common way to extract cellulose is through a chemical pulping process known as kraft cooking. The process starts with wood chips and ends with an organic compound that can be found all around us. Dr. Houtman explains “There is sometimes cellulose in your pre-grated cheese. There’s also cellulose in tablet medicines. If you look on the back of your shampoo bottle, you might see something like carboxymethyl cellulose, or you might see something like ethopropol cellulose. Those are all made from wood cellulose.” Other products that contain cellulose from wood products are textiles like cotton and linen, concrete, dog food, coffee filters, sponges, and even toothpaste.

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