Acetylation of wood – A review

Document Type: Review Paper

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Abstract

Wood is a porous three dimensional, hydroscopic, viscoelastic, anisotropic bio-polymer composite composed of an interconnecting matrix of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin with minor amounts of inorganic elements and organic extractives. Some, but not all, of the cell wall polymer hydroxyl groups are accessible to moisture and these accessible hydroxyls form hydrogen bonds with water. As the water layers build up, the cell wall expands to accommodate the water resulting in an increase in wood/water volume up to the fiber saturation point. Increased moisture levels also offer a large variety of micro-organisms the opportunity to colonize and begin the process of decay. If these accessible hydroxyl groups are chemically substituted with a larger and more hydrophobic chemical groups, the bonded chemical can expand the cell wall until it reaches its elastic limit. And if the hydrophobic nature of substituted groups sufficiently reduces the cell wall moisture levels, the wood will no longer support the colonization of micro-organisms. This modified wood then achieves a high level of dimensional stability and durability. One technology that has now been commercialized to achieve these properties is acetylation: a reaction between the hydroxyl groups on the wood cell wall polymers with acetic anhydride. While all woods contain a low level of acetyl groups, increasing this acetyl content changes the properties and performance of the reacted wood. When a substantial number of the accessible hydroxyl groups are acetylated consistently across the entire cell wall, the wood reaches its highest level of dimensional stability and durability.

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