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A New article published in Cambridge University Science Magazine Bluesci

last modified Jun 10, 2016 10:54 AM

A new article "The future of Timber" written by a first year PhD student Jan Lycyzakowski is now published in Cambridge University Science magazine, Blue sic. 

A strategy to improve the processing of softwood to sustainable biomaterials and biofuels

last modified Sep 26, 2017 10:16 AM
In a paper recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels we are looking at a possible way to improve the processing of timber derived from conifers to feedstock used for sustainable manufacturing of novel biomaterials and biofuels. Softwood, as any other timber, is predominantly composed of plant secondary cell walls - an intricate matrix of polysaccharides and phenolic compounds which surround wood cells. Due to abundance of trees, plant secondary cell walls are the largest, renewable, resource of bioenergy on the planet.
 A strategy to improve the processing of softwood to sustainable biomaterials and biofuels

Conifers

 

In this work we engineer cell walls of a model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to evaluate which of its components are critical for maintaining the resistance of biomass to degradation to simple sugars. We discover that by genetic removal of Glucuronic acid branches from a polysaccharide xylan we can increase the yields of fermentable sugars by more than 300% compared to wild type plants. We use the sugars released from both types of biomass as a feedstock for bioethanol production and find out that the removal of glucuronic acid doubles the biofuel yields obtained from plant material.

The addition of glucuronic acid, which we have discovered to be a molecular determinant of biomass recalcitrance, is catalysed by GUX enzymes in A. thaliana. By mining large transcriptomic datasets we identify putative conifer GUX enzymes likely to be responsible for the addition of glucuronic acid onto softwood xylan. We then use biochemical and synthetic biology techniques to establish that a newly discovered gene – PgGUX is indeed an active glucuronic acid transferase encoded in a genome of White spruce (Picea glauca).

Importantly, Arabidopsis thaliana plants without glucuronic acid on xylan grow to the same height as wild type plants and produce the same amount of biomass. Therefore, we believe that the identification and characterisation of conifer GUX enzymes will allow for creation of conifer trees which can provide a superior feedstock for biofuel production. Finally, as improvement in sugar release observed for plants without active GUX enzymes is measured without any chemical or thermal pre-treatment of biomass, this work may support innovation in industrial processes looking for more environmentally benign ways of processing timber.

 

Publication details;

Lyczakowski J, et al. Removal of glucuronic acid from xylan is a strategy to improve the conversion of plant biomass to sugars for bioenergy. Biotechnology for Biofuels 2017 10:224. DOI: 10.1186/s13068-017-0902-1

OpenAcess full text available at: https://biotechnologyforbiofuels.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13068-017-0902-1

 

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Professor Paul Dupree named a 2017 Highly Cited Researcher
A strategy to improve the processing of softwood to sustainable biomaterials and biofuels
In a paper recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels we are looking at a possible way to improve the processing of timber derived from conifers to feedstock used for sustainable manufacturing of novel biomaterials and biofuels. Softwood, as any other timber, is predominantly composed of plant secondary cell walls - an intricate matrix of polysaccharides and phenolic compounds which surround wood cells. Due to abundance of trees, plant secondary cell walls are the largest, renewable, resource of bioenergy on the planet.
Green method developed for making technical fibres
The team at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation has designed a super stretchy, strong and sustainable material that mimics the qualities of spider silk and viscose rayon, and is ‘spun’ from a material that is 98% water.
New journal article published by Professor Dupree
Cambridge Science Festival 2017 Natural Material Innovation
New publication in the Nature Communication: Folding of xylan onto cellulose fibrils in plant cell walls revealed by solid-state NMR
"Top of the tree: the case for wooden skyscrapers is not barking" in the Economist.
A New article published in Cambridge University Science Magazine Bluesci
The Festival of Plants 2016
Timber towers could transform London’s skyline
London’s first timber skyscraper could be a step closer to reality this week after Michael Ramage and Rob Foster presented Mayor of London Boris Johnson with conceptual plans for an 80-storey, 300metre high wooden building integrated within the Barbican.
The Guardian article: Seashells or spider silk: how nature could transform the structure of cities
New publication: Xylan decoration patterns and the plant secondary cell wall molecular architecture
Professor Paul Dupree: Highly Cited Researcher
the 8th Plant Biomechanics International Conference report (Darshil Shah)
Workshop with Industry

Cambridge Science Festival 2017 Natural Material Innovation

last modified Mar 29, 2017 07:42 AM

Natural Material Innovation Group participated the Cambridge Science Festival 2017 on 18 March. We held our demonstration stalls in the department of Chemistry. 

We demonstrated our research theme "Cells to skyscrapers: the science and engineering of 21st Century timber": understanding how plants support themselves, polymer impregnation of timber, and timber structural engineering.

The event was a big success and our demonstrations and display were well received.

 

the 8th Plant Biomechanics International Conference report (Darshil Shah)

last modified Dec 07, 2015 05:47 PM

Darshil Shah presented a paper on ‘Probing the role of xylan in irreversible deformation of stems of Arabidopsis thalianaat the 8th Plant Biomechanics International Conference in Nagoya, Japan which took place from 30 Nov – 5 Dec 2015.

 

There were over 250 participants at the conference for interdisciplinary exchanges, at the interfaces of materials science, engineering, mechanics, biology and physics, around the evolved ability of plants and plant materials (i.e. polymeric cell wall, and natural composite wood) to adapt to mechanical challenges. The conference was a great opportunity to meet and interact with a different audience and experts, and draw useful information and contacts for future projects (such as on biomimetic and bioinspired materials), learn about novel measurement techniques that may be applicable to other fields of materials science, etcetera. There were a total of 121 oral presentations over four days, including half-a-day dedicated to a ‘Young Scientist Forum’ in which Darshil presented. Presentations were in a variety of tracks and categories, with our specific interest being on moisture transport and drying of wood, cell wall structure-property-function relations, and bio-inspiration for technical applications.

 

Our research group’s (Centre for Natural Material Innovation, Cambridge University) paper was very well received, with particular interest generated on the robust experimental methodology we adopted to measure mechanical properties of stems. This has given us confidence on the relevance and importance of a review paper we are about to submit which evaluates existing approaches to measure stem properties and provide recommendations for best practices.

 

On the fifth day of the conference, Darshil visited the Ise Jingu shrine, the oldest and most revered Shinto shrine in Japan. Notably, the buildings in the sanctuary are traditional wooden structures, constructed using Japanese Cypress. Seeing traditional wood construction methods for bridges and buildings was very interesting .

 Darshil Conference trip

Green method developed for making technical fibres

last modified Sep 07, 2017 02:51 PM
The team at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation has designed a super stretchy, strong and sustainable material that mimics the qualities of spider silk and viscose rayon, and is ‘spun’ from a material that is 98% water.

Architects and chemists in our Centre have designed super-stretchy and strong fibres which are almost entirely composed of water, and could be used to make textiles, sensors and other materials. The fibres, which resemble miniature bungee cords as they can absorb large amounts of energy, are sustainable, non-toxic and can be made at room temperature.

 

This new method not only improves upon earlier methods of making synthetic spider silk, since it does not require high energy procedures or extensive use of harmful solvents, but it could substantially improve methods of making synthetic fibres of all kinds, since other types of synthetic fibres also rely on high-energy, toxic methods. The results are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Spider silk is one of nature’s strongest materials, and scientists have been attempting to mimic its properties for a range of applications, with varying degrees of success. “We have yet to fully recreate the elegance with which spiders spin silk,” said co-author Dr Darshil Shah from Cambridge’s Department of Architecture.

 

The fibres designed by the Cambridge team are “spun” from a soupy material called a hydrogel, which is 98% water. The remaining 2% of the hydrogel is made of silica and cellulose, both naturally available materials, held together in a network by barrel-shaped molecular “handcuffs” known as cucurbiturils. The chemical interactions between the different components enable long fibres to be pulled from the gel.

 

The fibres are pulled from the hydrogel, forming long, extremely thin threads – a few millionths of a metre in diameter. After roughly 30 seconds, the water evaporates, leaving a fibre which is both strong and stretchy.

 

“Although our fibres are not as strong as the strongest spider silks, they can support stresses in the range of 100 to 150 megapascals, which is similar to other synthetic and natural silks,” said Shah. “However, our fibres are non-toxic and far less energy-intensive to make.”

 

The fibres are capable of self-assembly at room temperature, and are held together by supramolecular host-guest chemistry, which relies on forces other than covalent bonds, where atoms share electrons.

 

“When you look at these fibres, you can see a range of different forces holding them together at different scales,” said Yuchao Wu, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, and the paper’s lead author. “It’s like a hierarchy that results in a complex combination of properties.”

 

The strength of the fibres exceeds that of other synthetic fibres, such as cellulose-based viscose and artificial silks, as well as natural fibres such as human or animal hair.

 

In addition to its strength, the fibres also show very high damping capacity, meaning that they can absorb large amounts of energy, similar to a bungee cord. There are very few synthetic fibres which have this capacity, but high damping is one of the special characteristics of spider silk. The researchers found that the damping capacity in some cases even exceeded that of natural silks.

 

“We think that this method of making fibres could be a sustainable alternative to current manufacturing methods,” said Shah. The researchers plan to explore the chemistry of the fibres further, including making yarns and braided fibres.

 

This research is the result of a collaboration between the Melville Laboratory for Polymer Synthesis in the Department of Chemistry, led by Professor Oren Scherman; and the Centre for Natural Material Innovation in the Department of Architecture, led by Dr Michael Ramage. The two groups have a mutual interest in natural and nature-inspired materials, processes and their applications across different scales and disciplines.

 

The research is supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Leverhulme Trust.

 

Reference

Yuchao Wu et al. ‘Bioinspired supramolecular fibers drawn from a multiphase self-assembled hydrogel.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1705380114

New publication in the Nature Communication: Folding of xylan onto cellulose fibrils in plant cell walls revealed by solid-state NMR

last modified Dec 23, 2016 10:16 AM

The new article, Folding of xylan onto cellulose fibrils in plant cell walls revealed by solid-state NMR,  was published in the journal Nature Communications. The study was led by Professor Paul Dupree team with his father, Professor Ray Dupree team at the Universities of Warwick. 

 

More details.

 

 

 

New publication: Xylan decoration patterns and the plant secondary cell wall molecular architecture

last modified Mar 08, 2016 10:30 AM

New paper has been published. 

Abstract

The molecular architecture of plant secondary cell walls is still not resolved. There are several proposed structures for cellulose fibrils, the main component of plant cell walls and the conformation of other molecules is even less well known. Glucuronic acid (GlcA) substitution of xylan (GUX) enzymes, in CAZy family glycosyl transferase (GT)8, decorate the xylan backbone with various specific patterns of GlcA. It was recently discovered that dicot xylan has a domain with the side chain decorations distributed on every second unit of the backbone (xylose). If the xylan backbone folds in a similar way to glucan chains in cellulose (2-fold helix), this kind of arrangement may allow the undecorated side of the xylan chain to hydrogen bond with the hydrophilic surface of cellulose microfibrils. MD simulations suggest that such interactions are energetically stable. We discuss the possible role of this xylan decoration pattern in building of the plant cell wall.

 

Read more: . DOI: 10.1042/BST20150183

Professor Paul Dupree: Highly Cited Researcher

last modified Jul 12, 2016 10:17 AM

The Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list 2015 has been officially published.

About three thousand researchers earned the distinction of being included, by publishing a number of papers designated by Essential Science Indicators as Highly Cited papers- raking among the top 1% most cited in their subject field and year of publication.

Prof Paul Dupree is on the list.

 

The Festival of Plants 2016

last modified May 25, 2016 09:50 AM
The Festival of Plants 2016

Dancing Oats

On 14 May, the Group participated in the Festival of Plants at the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens. We set up several presentations and demonstrations to show the properties of natural materials, including:

 "Dancing Oats”:

We set up a microscope and a monitor to show how a wild oat reacts to water, which explains how the plant germinates from the time it lands on the soil. With the moisture, it untwists by itself and looks like it is dancing. 

 Flower colouring: 

Capillary action to change the colour of gypsophila. The white flower changes its colour to blue, green or red. We gave away small samples of flowers with colouring agents. (Food colouring or ink) in ependorf to see how the water transportation in flowers works. 

 Magic wood:

We showed wood and paper bending, reacting to moisture changes. We presented these using wood materials, then visitors did a smaller scale experiment using paper and nail vanishes. 

 Wood vs Steel:

We prepared small pieces of wood and steel so that people could construct a building then compare. 

 All of our demonstrations were well received especially with children who were excited and enjoyed the experiments. 

 The Festival of Plants demosThe festival of Plants magic wood

The Guardian article: Seashells or spider silk: how nature could transform the structure of cities

last modified Jul 12, 2016 10:10 AM

Dr Michael Ramage's comments were included in an article in the Guardian.

Read More: Seashells or spider silk: how nature could transform the structure of cities

Timber towers could transform London’s skyline

last modified Apr 15, 2016 03:49 PM
London’s first timber skyscraper could be a step closer to reality this week after Michael Ramage and Rob Foster presented Mayor of London Boris Johnson with conceptual plans for an 80-storey, 300metre high wooden building integrated within the Barbican.

Oakwood Tower riverside nighttime for News

As a part of our Supertall Timber Project, Michael and Rob are working with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork to develop research on the future development of tall timber buildings in central London.

The use of timber as a structural material in tall buildings is an area of emerging interest for its variety of potential benefits; the most obvious being that it is a renewable resource, unlike prevailing construction methods which use concrete and steel.  The research is also investigating other potential benefits, such as reduced costs and improved construction timescales, increased fire resistance, and significant reduction in the overall weight of buildings.

The conceptual proposals currently being developed would create over 1,000 new residential units in a 1 million sq ft mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces in central London, integrated within the Barbican. 

Dr Michael Ramage, Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation, said: “The Barbican was designed in the middle of the last century to bring residential living into the city of London – and it was successful. We’ve put our proposals on the Barbican as a way to imagine what the future of construction could look like in the 21st century.

“If London is going to survive it needs to increasingly densify. One way is taller buildings. We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers. The fundamental premise is that timber and other natural materials are vastly underused and we don’t give them nearly enough credit. Nearly every historic building, from King’s College Chapel to Westminster Hall, has made extensive use of timber.”

Kevin Flanagan, Partner at PLP Architecture said “We now live predominantly in cities and so the proposals have been designed to improve our wellbeing in an urban context. Timber buildings have the potential architecturally to create a more pleasing, relaxed, sociable and creative urban experience. Our firm is currently designing many of London’s tall buildings, and the use of timber could transform the way we build in this city. We are excited to be working with the University and with Smith and Wallwork on this ground breaking design- and engineering-based research.”

The tall timber buildings research also looks towards creating new design potentials with timber buildings, rather than simply copying the forms of steel and concrete construction. The transition to timber construction may have a wider positive impact on urban environments and built form, and offers opportunities not only to rethink the aesthetics of buildings, but also the structural methodologies informing their design as well.

Just as major innovations in steel, glass, concrete revolutionised buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries, creating new typologies such as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace and the Parisian arcades described by Walter Benjamin, innovations in timber construction could lead to entirely new experiences of the city in the 21st century.

The type of wood these new buildings would use is regarded as a ‘crop’. The amount of crop forest in the world is currently expanding. Canada alone could produce more than 15billion m³ of crop forest in the next 70 years, enough to house around a billion people.

Simon Smith of Smith and Wallwork engineers said: “Timber is our only renewable construction material and in its modern engineered form it can work alongside steel and concrete to extend and regenerate our cities. It is only a matter of time until the first timber skyscraper is built”.

At present, the world’s tallest timber building is a 14-storey apartment block in Bergen, Norway. The proposals presented to Johnson included concepts for a timber tower nearly 300m high, which would make it the second tallest building in London after The Shard.

Dr Ramage added: “We’ve designed the architecture and engineering and demonstrated it will stand, but this is at a scale no one has attempted to build before. We are developing a new understanding of primary challenges in structure and construction. There is a lot of work ahead, but we are confident of meeting all the challenges before us.”

Perhaps the most obvious concern for potential residents of homes built primarily from timber is fire risk. However, the team involved in the project said the proposed building would eventually meet or exceed every existing fire regulation currently in place for steel and concrete buildings.

Recent research has also shown that timber buildings can have positive effects on their user and occupant’s health. Some recent studies have also shown that children taught in schools with timber structures may perform better than in those made of concrete.

The designs for the Barbican is the first in a series of timber skyscrapers developed by Cambridge University in association with globally renowned architects and structural engineers with funding from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

 

"Top of the tree: the case for wooden skyscrapers is not barking" in the Economist.

last modified Sep 22, 2016 09:52 AM

In the article entitled "Top of the tree: the case for wooden skyscrapers is not barking" Dr Michael Ramage discusses his research with the Centre for Natural Material Innovation which is investigating the use of wooden materials for tall buildings, including a conceptual study for an 80-storey wooden skyscraper (designed in collaboration with PLP Architecture and Smith and Wallwork engineers). At 300 metres tall it would be the second highest building in London if it was ever to be constructed.

Workshop with Industry

last modified Dec 07, 2015 04:48 PM

On June 12 2015, the group hosted a workshop with the representatives from industry such as forestry, wood product and engineering areas. Our main focuses of the day were reviewing our latest paper and discussing on the direction of the Group and research target.

The workshop was very successful. We have received an excellent feedback from industry on paper we have drafted convening all aspects of timber in the build environment and the research discussion was also very useful. We have also build closer connection with professionals in this area, some of whom we did not know before.Workshop with Industry

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A strategy to improve the processing of softwood to sustainable biomaterials and biofuels

Sep 21, 2017

In a paper recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels we are looking at a possible way to improve the processing of timber derived from conifers to feedstock used for sustainable manufacturing of novel biomaterials and biofuels. Softwood, as any other timber, is predominantly composed of plant secondary cell walls - an intricate matrix of polysaccharides and phenolic compounds which surround wood cells. Due to abundance of trees, plant secondary cell walls are the largest, renewable, resource of bioenergy on the planet.

Green method developed for making technical fibres

Sep 07, 2017

The team at the Centre for Natural Material Innovation has designed a super stretchy, strong and sustainable material that mimics the qualities of spider silk and viscose rayon, and is ‘spun’ from a material that is 98% water.

View all news