Nature has created a number of mechanisms to preserve life and protect living organisms from external degrading agents. Petrification, for example, is a process that occurs over thousands of years and that deposits inorganic compounds into the pore spaces of wood. This protects the wood from burning and makes it resistant to biodegradation from humidity, fungi, and putrefaction. What if we could imitate petrification?
From 1999 until his passing in 2016, Emeritus Professor Burkhard Seeger, former instructor for the UdeC Faculty of Chemical Sciences, led a research team that developed a product that used inorganic salts to produce “petrified wood.” In addition to granting the aforementioned traits of petrified wood, these salts, which are nontoxic to humans and the environment, also left wood color unchanged.
“This was one of the first technological innovations with an industrial impact developed by the Unit for Technological Development (UDT, Spanish acronym). We constructed laboratory- and pilot- scale installations, launched related projects, presented invention patents, and licensed the technology to a company. It was an enriching learning processes for the team in various aspects, including in regards to interdisciplinary work, business relations, intellectual property, and scaling processes, to name a few,” indicates Dr. Alex Berg, UDT Executive Director and one of the researchers that worked with Professor Seeger.
The developed technology considered an alternative method for impregnating wood, one based on processes similar to those observed in nature. This alternative method uses innocuous inorganic chemical compounds, including boron and silicon salts. These compounds are introduced and fixed into the wood, specifically the cell wall, through a complex and irreversible chemical process. This procedure ultimately protects the wood against fire and pathogens. Petrified wood is an excellent alternative for doors, windows, floors, playgrounds, furniture, bridges, docks, and fences.
The required research and development processes were supported by a Fondef project (1999) called “Development of products and processes to diversify use and add value to Pinus radiata wood” and by a CORFO/Fontec project (2003) called “Obtaining construction elements from inflammable wood that are mechanically better than and similar in appearance to commercial species of Chilean wood.” Three invention patents were granted between 2009 and 2011 in relation to this technology, and in 2005, a licensing agreement was established with Stonewood Ltda., a business created by Quipasur S.A. and Preserva S.A., to produce and commercialize the new impregnating agent.