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Liquid wood toys

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liquid wood toys

A nativity set is the first toy made out of an eco-safe liquid wood.

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BRISBANE: The latest eco-toys to hit the market may provide an interesting eco-alternative to plastic toys - those made from liquid wood.

The Frauenhofer Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in Pfinztal, Germany has developed a bioplastic made from lignin, a by-product of the woodpulp industry.

Officially called 'Arboform' after the Latin word for wood (arbor), the bioplastic can be melted - hence 'liquid' wood - and moulded with conventional plastic processing machines.

The finished products look and even smell like wood, according to Plastics Technology online editor Jan H. Schut.

Liquid wood is also recyclable, said ICT team leader Emilia Inone-Kauffmann.

"We produced components, broke them up into small pieces, and re-processed the broken pieces - ten times in all," she said.

Conventional plastics are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, but lignin is the second most abundant natural polymer after cellulose.

About 30 per cent of a tree is made up of lignin, and the global woodpulp industry produces 50 million tonnes of it each year as a by-product of the paper-making process.

Lignin has already been used make a tough bioplastic for car parts, but the finished product contained too much sulphur to be safe for use in children's toys.

Removing the sulphur made the lignin dissolve in water - no good for a toy that has to endure being left out in the rain or used as a teething aid.

However, researchers at Frauenhofer ICT and company Tecnaro recently discovered that mixing the lignin with other natural material such as flax, hemp or wax can toughen it up to resist water.

The first toys made of liquid wood are a set of nativity figurines, sold through the Tecnaro GmbH website.

At just over 400 Euro for the complete set, it's not cheap, but the figurines can also be bought separately.

The company also sells liquid wood wristwatch casings and golf tees, and said that arboform could also be used to make jewellery, musical instruments, or furniture.