Maple sap tapped as potential green products source
The maple tree already provides Canadians with a beautiful part of the landscape, a national emblem and the sticky sweet syrup created from its sap. Now researchers have tapped into a new use for the sap: a base for a natural, biodegradable polymer, one they say may reduce our dependence on fossil fuel-based plastics.
The discovery could potentially provide a new range of biodegradable products such as more environmentally friendly packaging material, and could be used for medical applications like drug delivery systems and surgical sutures, the National Research Council said.
It could give a boost to a seasonal industry in which Canada is the dominant player.
Hawari said that unlike fossil fuel-based polymers, natural polymers biodegrade over time more readily, but are still stable enough to perform their functions. They are also biologically inert, meaning they won't adversely affect humans if used for medical applications.
Already the Biotechnology Research Institute has applied for a patent for at least one of the products using the maple sap-based polymer, and plans to pursue partnerships with researchers working on possible nanotechnology applications.
It could also provide an alternative for maple sap producers beyond the niche market of maple syrup, and could lead to a boom down the road for tree-tappers: Hawari said only one-third of the potential reserves of maple trees in Quebec are tapped.
Hawari credits government interest in pursuing green research designed to reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel products with the discovery.
"Maple trees are such a common thing here in Canada but it took a push towards greener products for us to look at it as an option," said Hawari.
"We're lucky to have stumbled onto it," he said.