Some innovations simply borrow from Nature and use Nature’s skills– for instance, Weizmann’s discovery of the little bacterium that can make acetone and butyl alcohol from starch (see my blog “Trial and Error,”  June 2, 2009).

But some great innovations save Nature, by replicating what it can do without destroying it.

As reported on CNN.com, a Norwegian company called Kebony has found a way to turn sustainable softwood (maple) into sleek dark wood that has all the characteristics of mahogany or teak–  hardwood from  Amazon forest. Kebony’s process takes only five days.

According to Kebony CEO Christian Jebsen, each mahogany tree is worth $25,000-$40,000 on the world market. This makes such trees very valuable, especially in a poor country like Peru. 

Kebony’s patented process treats softwood by injecting it with a formula that includes furfuryl alcohol, a waste by-product of sugar cane. 

One cubic meter of teak in Europe can cost between $3,000-$10,000 Euros, depending on quality.  Jebsen says Kebony’s process (the name Kebony is a take-off on ‘ebony’, a kind of valuable black hardwood once used to make black piano keys)  is cost-competitive. 

Kebony is aiming at the U.S. market for patio decks, which uses at present, toxic impregnated metal-based wood modification methods. The market is worth $5 b. today, Jebsen notes. Jebsen also thinks boat manufacturers will embrace its product.

Copy nature for innovation? Of course. Improve on nature? Why not? Why not transform softwood maple into hardwood teak? The logic is simple. Those valuable things in Nature that we must preserve– only if viable substitutes are found for them will their market value decline, making it less worthwhile to ‘harvest’ them (and destroy them in the process). Kebony has made a good start at saving the world’s valuable hardwood forests.   

                                                                

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