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Study: Pine needles of discarded Christmas trees can turn into renewable fuels
Processing pine needles from discarded Christmas trees or other sources could be turned into renewable fuels and new products, thus contributing to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint, according a research at the University of Sheffield and the University of Valladolid.
The study said pine needles could be used to produce renewable fuels and value-added chemicals, such as preservatives used in agriculture, using only water as a solvent.
If pine needles were collected after Christmas and processed in this way, the chemicals could be used to replace less sustainable chemicals currently used in industry.
This could lead to a decrease in the UK’s carbon footprint by reducing the use of artificial plastic-based Christmas trees, reducing the amount of biomass waste going to landfill and potentially saving an estimated 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases, currently released every year by landfilled Christmas trees.
Between six and eight million real Christmas trees are sold every year in the UK, with an estimated seven million making their way to landfill at the end of the festive period.
Not only is this costly, but once in landfill, each tree will release 16 kg of greenhouse gases as they decompose, producing methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
The study looked at using different waste materials – sugar cane as well as pine needles – and concluded although sugar cane worked more effectively, refineries could use mixed biomass feedstock at different times of the year when different waste products are more abundant, for example, using pine needles in January.
Earlier University research from 2018 found that useful products could be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles when processed. With the aid of heat and solvents, the 2018 study established that the chemical structure of pine needles could be broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil), which could be used in the production of sweeteners, paint, adhesives and vinegar and a solid by-product (bio-char), which could be used in other industrial chemical processes.