Spotted: The most wonderful time of the year is also the most wasteful time of the year. Everything else aside, it is estimated that seven million Christmas trees find themselves in UK landfills each year, releasing around 100,000 tonnes of emissions into the atmosphere. But, as a new paper published by researchers at the University of Sheffield and the University of Valladolid has found, these trees could be reused.
Instead of going to landfill, the pine needles from the trees could produce formic acid to use in hydrogen fuel cells, replacing the less sustainable chemicals currently used. As researcher María Andérez-Fernández explains: “We found that instead of the metal and the carbon dioxide reacting, we could react carbon dioxide with pine needles and water at high temperatures and a fraction of the pine needles would turn into the same product as the CO2.”
This new research carried out by Andérez-Fernández, a University of Valladolid PhD student, under the supervision of Dr James McGregor, builds on earlier University research from 2018 when Andérez-Fernández visited the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. These previous investigations unveiled that the chemical structure of pine needles could be turned into a liquid product using only water as a solvent. This liquid product, or bio-oil, could be used potentially as a food preservative and in different types of manufacturing.
If pine needles are successfully incorporated into hydrogen fuel cells in this way, it would have a significant positive impact on the UK’s carbon footprint. Not only would massive amounts of biomass waste be prevented and unsustainable chemicals replaced, but environmentally conscious consumers may also start avoiding artificial plastic-based trees in favour of real trees.
Presently, this innovative idea does not expand beyond this research paper, but its promise might encourage further testing for real-world use.
Springwise has previously spotted other innovations that repurpose discarded biowaste, from pine needles being turned into lingerie, to biowaste being used as leather and fabrics.
Written By: Georgia King