Unit 5 - Forest Research: Current Applications


Lesson 5: Biochemistry and Biotechnology

Biochemistry

In recent years, Canada's pulp and paper industry has experienced many grave challenges. This has been due, in part, to the growth of digital communication, a weak Canadian dollar, and intense competition. Pulp and paper mills across the country have closed and many jobs have been lost. However, these struggling old mills are increasingly receiving a new lease on life thanks to an innovative product known as dissolving pulp.

For example, in 2010 Fortress Paper Ltd., a Vancouver-based specialty paper producer purchased a pulp mill in Thurso, Québec and converted it to a dissolving pulp facility. The mill began the production of dissolving pulp in December 2011.

Like traditional pulp used in the pulp and paper industry, dissolving pulp is produced from wood. However, the production of dissolving pulp involves the chemical extraction of fibres from wood to obtain cellulose. This extra chemical process results in a pulp with a higher cellulose content, around 92%. Because the biological structure of dissolving pulp is stronger than that of regular pulp, dissolving pulp has a high level of brightness and a uniform molecular weight distribution. It is regarded as a specialty cellulose that can be used to create many products such as acetate textile fibres, cellophane, photographic film, medical surgery products, tire cords, and rayon. Rayon is a man-made textile which is currently in huge demand around the world.


Biotechnology

 

Simply put, biotechnology is the use of living organisms to create products or perform some task for human beings.

In Canada, many trees are harvested to produce pulp and paper. Paper is made from cellulose fibres. In a process known as pulping, these fibres are separated from the tough wood fibre, known as lignin.

In order to do this, the wood must be either mechanically processed, or treated with harsh chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

In the forest, fungi play a natural role in decomposition where enzymes break down lignin (woody debris) into sugars. These fungal enzymes, known as cellulase and xylanase, can be used to pre-treat wood and break down the tough lignin fibres.

Using naturally-occurring enzymes saves time and energy, and reduces the need for harsh chemicals.