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New tropical wood substitute could save rainforests worldwide

One of the main drivers of tropical deforestation is western consumption of hardwoods, more durable and weather-resistant than softwoods. For example, hardwood harvested in Southeast Asia—both legally and illegally obtained—often makes its way to China where it is crafted into cheap outdoor-ready hardwood products, which is then sold to the world’s wealthy nations, such as the United States and countries in the EU. The trade releases significant greenhouse gases, threatens indigenous groups, and imperils the region’s biodiversity. Yet a new product, apart of an art installation at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, may have the capacity to stem the loss of tropical forests for hardwoods.

Kebony, a Norwegian company, has developed a process to make softwoods similar to tropical hardwoods without the use of chemicals. The product, also called Kebony, stops softwood from rotting by treating it with a chemical-free process that involves sugarcane waste, pressurizing, and heating. The process makes softwood that is actually harder than tropical hardwoods and resistant to fungi and insects. Since the wood only needs to be treated once, it is cheaper than soft woods over the long run that need to be treated throughout their lifetime, each treatment releasing toxic chemicals into the environment.

Displayed in an art installation showing off eco-solutions to climate change, Kebony was also the recipient of Norway’s national environmental prize, the ‘Glass Bear’.

“This technology provides a global eco-solution to the major environmental challenge of rain forest deforestation,” said Christian Jebsen, CEO of Kebony, in a press release.

The Kebony process was developed by Marc Schneider at the University of New Brunswick. An industrial scale plant for Kebony opened in Norway in January of this year.

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