Researchers have found a sustainable solution to chopping down trees.
While the looming climate emergency certainly calls for planting more trees, MIT researchers say we don’t need them. At least, not to create your next dining room table.
The research team say they took the lab-grown meat model and applied it to wood. Their findings are published in the recent issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production. According to the researchers, they’ve grown tissue extracted from zinnia plant leaves without the need for soil or sunlight.
By taking a cell sample of an animal, or plant in this case, researchers can feed and grow the cells into viable tissue. For the meat industry, this means a cruelty-free alternative to raising livestock. There are currently 55 billion land animals slaughtered for food every year. Food tech companies have been working on solving this problem with lab-grown meat for more than a decade.
However, wood may take to the tech easier than animal tissue. According to the MIT researchers, this means it could reach price parity with logged wood rather quickly.
This could allow for sustainable forest-free wood, the researchers theorize. It would also reduce the time it takes to grow and harvest wood naturally. Additionally, the tech has the potential to grow in certain shapes more suited for commercial use. Researchers say wood could be grown in squares or rectangles instead.
“Trees grow in tall cylindrical poles, and we rarely use tall cylindrical poles in industrial applications,” Ashley Beckwith, mechanical engineering PhD student and the paper’s lead author, said in a statement. “So you end up shaving off a bunch of material that you spent 20 years growing and that ends up being a waste product.”
Lab-grown wood could help mitigate our massive deforestation problem, too. By keeping plants in the ground they can trap more carbon and produce more oxygen. More than 200,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest are destroyed per day. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Canada’s industrial logging accounts for the loss of more than one million acres per year, contributing 26 million metric tons of uncounted carbon emissions.
It’s a problem retail furniture giant IKEA, which uses 1 percent of all commercial wood, is already working on. Most recently it announced a new forest agenda to help reduce clearcutting. Lab-grown or cultured wood could be part of its future sustainability commitments.
While lab-grown wood is still in the very early stages of development, things could accelerate quickly. Lab-grown meat just made its restaurant debut in Singapore; the tech first debuted in 2008. From there it’s quickly become more efficient to produce and more affordable. And within another decade, it’s entirely possible that your burger and the table it’s served on, will have both been grown in a lab.