Your next cosmetic or detergent may come from trees: EU-funded CERBERUS project

October 27, 2006

Brussels, 26 October 2006

Multipurpose exploitation of European forest resources: From wood and bark wastes to bioactive compounds

High oil prices not only intensified discussions about fuel substitutes for transportation but as fossil oil is also the basis for a lot of different chemicals for every day life, including pharmaceuticals, new alternatives have to be found. In the wood industry and especially in pulp and paper productions a substantial amount of knotwood and bark have to be removed before starting the process because they are rich in wood extractives which are detrimental to papermaking (especially resins and waxes). Nevertheless, wood extractives are rich in bioactive compounds. The EU-funded project CERBERUS, developed methods of exploiting wood extractives from industrial waste materials in order to produce purified bioactive compounds, promoting multi-purpose applications from detergents/biocides to food additives.

Wood has long been known to contain a bunch of different bioactive compounds but the low extractives content found in stem wood have limited their exploitation. The amount and kind of compound differs substantially between wood species. A major challenge of the project was to identify the most promising bioactive compounds and to specify the wood species for which the quantity of those compounds was high enough to merit extraction.

Other, more specific scientific and technological objectives of the project were:

* To develop a physicochemical treatment of wood wastes at a pilot scale to promote the exploitation of the bioactive compounds from wood extractives;

* To elucidate the chemical structure and amounts of wood extractives in knotwood and barks based on an analytical scheme of organic and aqueous extractions;

* To evaluate the bioactivity of the wood extractive components as microbicides, slimicides, preservative agents and health promoting compounds.

The first success of the project was the development of a novel technology on pilot scale to separate knots from normal wood prior to extraction. After extraction and purification based on physiochemical techniques, several grams of purified extracts or individual pure extractive compounds were obtained. Both have been extensively tested for bioactivity. Extractives alone or in combination, were studied as microbiostatic or microbicide agents. The ability of extractive components to degrade biofilms, or to prevent their formation, was of special interest. Their anti-adhesive and bio-dispersing properties were tested and compared. Different experiments focused on the anti-oxidant properties of extractive fractions and isolated compounds. Besides the anti-oxidant properties, the wood extractives were screened for properties susceptible to lowering risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The extensive characterisation of wood compounds for their hormonal and anti-tumor properties will provide consumers with valuable information not only on health benefits, but also on possible risks associated with these phytochemicals.

The Cerberus project succeeded in establishing a list of extractive compounds adapted to each following fields of application: anti-microbial, anti-slime, anti-oxidant, preservative effects for health benefits and cosmetics. Contacts with some industries have already been made.

DG Research
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