Hardwoods and softwoods are both utilized in the pulp, paper, and biofuels industries, but often for different purposes. Softwoods, such as conifers, have long fibers well suited for use in making strong paper products, but are also more difficult to deconstruct than hardwoods. They also convert more easily and in higher volume to biofuels. Hardwoods, however, are often easier to degrade.
UW–Madison professor of biochemistry John Ralph and collaborators have demonstrated the potential for softwoods to process more easily if engineered to incorporate key features of hardwoods. By pairing the most economically desirable traits of each wood type, it's possible to decrease the intensity of processing techniques and increase yields. This technology could have significant economic impact across a range of industries, reducing the amount of energy required and waste produced in processing softwoods.