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The Rationale behind Cork Properties: A Review of Structure and Chemistry


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Cork is a natural cellular material of biological origin with a combination of properties that make it suited for worldwide use as a wine sealant and insulation material. Cork has low density, is buoyant, is not very permeable to fluids, has a low thermal coefficient, exhibits elasticity and deformation without fracturing under compression, and has considerable durability. Such characteristics result from the features of its cellular structure, primarily its cell dimensions and topology, and from the chemical composition of the cell wall. The characteristics of the two main chemical components (suberin and lignin, which represent 53% and 26%, respectively, of the cell wall) have been analyzed. The limits of natural variation and their impacts on cork properties are discussed and used to define the material as “cork”.
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Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 1
The Rationale behind Cork Properties: A Review of
Structure and Chemistry
Helena Pereira
Cork is a natural cellular material of biological origin with a combination of
properties that make it suited for worldwide use as a wine sealant and
insulation material. Cork has low density, is buoyant, is not very permeable
to fluids, has a low thermal coefficient, exhibits elasticity and deformation
without fracturing under compression, and has considerable durability.
Such characteristics result from the features of its cellular structure,
primarily its cell dimensions and topology, and from the chemical
composition of the cell wall. The characteristics of the two main chemical
components (suberin and lignin, which represent 53% and 26%,
respectively, of the cell wall) have been analyzed. The limits of natural
variation and their impacts on cork properties are discussed and used to
define the material as cork.
Keywords: Cork; Quercus suber; Suberin; Lignin; Cellular structure; Compression; Properties
Contact information: Centro de Estudos Florestais, Instituto Superior de Agronomia, Universidade de
Lisboa, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017, Lisboa, Portugal; E-mail:
Cork is a natural material used worldwide as the sealant for wine bottles. It has been
used to “cork” glass bottles since their emergence in the beginning of the seventeenth
century, and it sealed ceramic amphora many centuries earlier (Taber 2007; Pereira 2007).
Cork is of biological origin and occurs in the periderm of tree barks. It forms a
protective barrier (designated phellem in plant anatomy) at the interface of the innermost
living tissues and the exterior (Evert and Eichhorn 2006). Protection against temperature
variation, water loss, fire, and biological attack are provided by cork as a result of its
specialized cellular structure and chemical composition.
The properties of cork attracted attention long ago. It is a light material with very
low permeability to liquids and gases that demonstrates buoyancy, can withstand
compressive deformation without fracture, and has low heat transfer properties (Fortes et
al. 2004; Pereira 2007). Cork has been used in various applications, including floating
devices, sealing products, and insulation, energy absorption, and surfacing materials. The
aesthetic character of cork in combination with its properties also led to recent applications
in design products, e.g. for outdoor and indoor furniture, household, and personal use items.
The use of cork as a biosorbent was also researched in relation to heavy metals (Chubar et
al. 2004; Sen et al. 2012b), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (Olivella et al. 2011), and
oil (Pintor et al. 2013). Other applications of cork, such as composites, are reviewed in
Silva et al. (2005) and Pereira (2007).
Cork is the raw material for a dedicated industrial chain of great economic
importance. Commercial cork is produced in the western Mediterranean regions from the
cork oak (Quercus suber L.) through the periodic removal of the tree bark periderm under
a sustainable exploitation management system throughout the tree’s lifetime (Pereira and
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 2
Tomé 2004). Cork oak forests are usually multifunctional systems that provide a rich array
of environmental services and biodiversity that sustain the favorable ecological footprint
of cork.
Wine stoppers are the iconic product derived from cork, but other well-known
applications in insulation and surfacing consume most of the industrial cork side-streams
and wastes, making the overall use of cork a highly efficient raw material utilization
process. Some novel applications have received considerable attention recently,
particularly those associated with its use in buildings or events that have received large
media coverage, such as in the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, the Serpentine
Gallery Pavilion in London (2012), or the Portuguese pavilion in the World Exhibition of
Shanghai (2010).
The cellular structure of cork was studied in the early days of experimental research
(Hooke 1665) and, later on, as a bridge to understand the material’s properties (Gibson et
al. 1981; Pereira et al. 1987). Its chemical composition was first studied long ago
(Brugnatelli 1787), but is a subject still under extensive research (as reviewed in Pereira
2007). Its structural features, chemical composition, and the molecular structures of the
components of cork are the keys to better understanding the material’s properties. They are
the rationale behind such important performance features as the oxygen ingress into corked
wine bottles and the compressive behavior underlying the bottling and maintenance of cork
stoppers in the bottleneck.
This review paper presents cork’s anatomy and chemistry, primarily regarding the
characteristics of its two main components (suberin and lignin), that underlie the different
properties that make cork special. The limits of natural variation and their impact on cork
behavior are also discussed.
Cork is a foam with closed cells. Its structural characteristics were briefly described
by Gibson et al. (1981) and discussed in detail by Pereira et al. (1987). Its formation and
development were characterized by Graça and Pereira (2004). Cork cells are formed by the
phellogen, a meristematic layer (i.e., with cell division capability) that produces the bark
The cork tissue is compact, without intercellular voids, and with a regular
honeycomb arrangement. This biological tissue is homogeneous with regard to cell type:
the cells are dead parenchymateous cells with hollow, air-filled interiors. The cells are
prismatic, hexagonal on average, and are stacked base-to-base in an alignment oriented in
the tree’s radial direction. All cells in one radial row derive from one phellogen mother-
cell: after cellular division, the cork cell differentiates and subsequently expands in the
radial direction. The cell rows are arranged parallel to each other with the prism bases in
staggered positions in adjacent rows.
The cellular structure appears differently in the three main sections: in a radial
plane, as well as in a transverse plane, the 2-D arrangement is of a brick-layered type; in
the tangential plane, the cells appear hexagonal on average in a honeycomb arrangement
(Fig. 1). In spite of the different sectional layouts, the cells are topologically similar with
an average of six sides (Pereira et al. 1987). Geometrically, the tissue is axisymmetric, with
a symmetry axis along the prism’s height.
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 3
It must be noted that the description of the cork structure should use the terminology
of sections adopted by plant anatomy: the transverse section is the plane perpendicular to
the axial direction, the tangential section is perpendicular to the radial direction, and the
radial section is perpendicular to the tangential direction (see e.g. Pereira 2007).
The cells are small and have dimensions under those of synthetic foams. The area
of the prism base is 4 to 6 x 10-6 cm2 with a mean prism base edge of 13 to 15 m; prism
height is usually in the range of 30 to 40 m. The mean cell volume is approximately 2 x
10-8 cm3 and the number of cells per unit volume is 4 to 7 x 107 cm-3. The cell walls are
thin with thicknesses of 1 to 1.5 m. The solid mass volume fraction of the cork is therefore
very small, approximately 10%.
The solid mass of cork is concentrated in its cell walls. The thickness of the cell
walls is constant in the different directions, with similar values in the cell edges and faces
and only with a small enlargement because of rounding at face junctions (Fig. 2). There
are no microscopic openings (i.e., at the m level) in the walls for cell-to-cell connection
like the pits in wood cells. There are, however, minute, stuffed channels at the sub-
microscopic level that occasionally cross the cell walls (Fig. 2). These are termed the
plasmodesmata and are observable by transmission electron microscopy with a cross-
sectional diameter of approximately 100 nm. They are remnants of the connections
between the cells during division as used for cytoplasmatic exchanges (Teixeira and Pereira
Fig. 1. Structure of cork as observed by scanning electron microscopy in the three main sections:
(left) tangential section, perpendicular to the tree’s radial direction; (middle) transverse section,
perpendicular to the tree’s axial direction; and (right) radial section, the tree’s radial section
Fig. 2. Cross-section of the cell wall of cork as observed by transmission electron microscopy,
showing one plasmodesma (right)
Despite the overall regularity of cork’s structure, it contains natural heterogeneity
given by the formation of the annual rings that represent the yearly growth rhythm of cork,
similar to what happens in wood. Cork formation stops in October or November and starts
a new growth season in April or May (Costa et al. 2002). The last few cells that are
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 4
produced in a year are called latecork cells and have a smaller prism height (10 to 15 m)
and thicker cell walls (2 to 3 m). In a cork annual ring, the number of latecork cells is
small (4 to 8 cells in one radial growth ring), while the so-called earlycork cells represent
about 40 to 200 cells in a row (Pereira et al. 1992). Although the cellular characteristics of
cork are largely dominated by earlycork (which represents 90 to 95% of the total volume),
the presence of the latecork layers, with their approximately 20% volume fraction,
influences the overall properties of cork.
Another factor of the natural variation in cork cells is the undulation of their cell
walls. The lateral faces of the cell prisms are not straight and usually exhibit undulations,
often 2 per face, that run rather uniformly and parallel. This pattern varies, and stronger
undulations or corrugations can appear such that, in special cases, near cell collapse can
occur. This is often the case in the first cells formed in the early spring of a growth year as
these cells grow radially against the previous season’s latecork cells. Figure 3 shows an
example of the transition between two cork rings and of this type of undulation. The
capacity of the corrugation of cork cell walls without fracture is a consequence of the cell
wall’s chemical composition, as will be discussed.
Fig. 3. Transition between two annual growth rings (left) and a magnified view of the ring
boundary region between earlycork cells of one year and latecork cells of the previous year
Another natural heterogeneity in the cork tissue is the presence of conspicuous
lenticular channels that radially cross the cork layer. These are of natural origin and are
thought to ensure the gas exchange between the below-cork tissues and the exterior. They
visually appear as small rounded spots in the tangential sections and as radially aligned
strips in the other sections, the so-called cork porosity. The lenticular channels are filled
with a loose cellular material and are often bordered by thick-walled sclereid cells (Fig. 4).
The lenticular channels vary largely in number and dimensions, depending on tree genetics,
from minute pores less than 0.1 mm2 in cross-sectional area to over 100 mm2.
The lenticular channels are usually quantified by a porosity coefficient calculated
as the proportion of pores in the total area. The porosity coefficients of cork range from
below 2% to over 15%, and have been determined on cork planks (Pereira et al. 1996),
wine stoppers (Costa and Pereira 2007; Oliveira et al. 2012) and discs for champagne
stoppers (Lopes and Pereira 2000). Surface image analysis of the cork stoppers and
porosity quantifications are the basis for the visual classification of cork into quality grades
(Costa and Pereira 2006; Oliveira et al. 2015a).
Recently, a 3-D rendering of the interior of a cork stopper made with X-ray
microtomography allowed observation of the internal lenticular architecture (Oliveira et
al. 2015c). The observation of cork stoppers with a medical tomography equipment also
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 5
made possible visualizing and identifying some defects of wine stoppers (Oliveira et al.
2015b). Other non-destructive methods have been also applied to cork, e.g. neutron
imaging (Lagorce-Tachon et al. 2015), Synchotron (Donepudi et al. 2010), Compton
(Brunetti et al. 2002), and Terahertz (Hor et al. 2008; Mukherjee and Federici 2011)
Fig. 4. Lenticular channels as observed by microtomography within a cork stopper in the radial
(left) and transverse (right) sections, showing the loose filling tissue and their high-density border;
the denser regions (lighter shaded) of the latecork layers at the growth ring boundary are also
The nature of cork is also a function of its chemical composition, especially the
presence of suberin as a structural component of its cell walls. Suberin exists only in cork
tissues in the periderm of barks, apart from minor occurrence in specialized bodies (e.g.,
in Casparian bands). The chemical reaction of suberin with aliphatic-sensitive stains (such
as Sudan dyes) is used in plant anatomy to detect cork tissues (Machado et al. 2013).
The chemical composition of cork has been reported from various authors, starting
with the composition given by Klauber (1920) with suberin representing 58% of the cork
mass. The first attempt to characterize the chemical composition of cork using a large
number of samples was made by Pereira (1988) with a total of 50 samples, and later by
Conde et al. (1998) with about 30 samples, and recently by Dehane et al. (2014) with 60
The widest coverage of cork chemical composition was made by Pereira (2013)
who analyzed a total of 96 cork samples from 29 locations, therefore allowing calculation
of a robust average and range of variation. Table 1 shows the chemical composition of cork
relative to the oven-dry mass (Pereira 2013) and as proportion of the structural components.
Suberin represents an average of 53% of the structural components and lignin represents
26%. Cellulose and hemicelluloses represent approximately 10 and 11% of the structural
cell wall components, respectively. Cork also contains an appreciable amount of
extractives that include both non-polar and polar compounds (6 and 10% of the oven-dry
cork mass, respectively) (Pereira 2013). The inorganic materials content, determined as
ash, is approximately 1% (Pereira 1988) and has been the subject of a recent review (Ponte-
e-Sousa and Neto-Vaz 2011).
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 6
Table 1. Summative Chemical Composition (% o.d. cork mass), Monosaccharide
Composition (% of total neutral sugars), and Proportion of Cell Wall Structural
Components of Cork (% of the structural components mass) (calculated from
Pereira 2013)
% on OD Cork
Mean (std)
% of Structural
Extractives, Total
16.2 (3.9)
5.8 (0.8)
5.9 (3.0)
4.5 (1.6)
Suberin, Total
44.8 (6.2)
52.8 (7.3)
Long Chain Lipids
41.0 (5.2)
48.3 (6.1)
3.8 (0.6)
4.5 (0.7)
Lignin, Total
22.0 (3.3)
25.9 (3.9)
Klason Lignin
21.1 (3.3)
24.9 (3.9)
Acid Soluble Lignin
0.9 (0.2)
1.0 (0.2)
Monosaccharide Composition (% of Total Neutral Sugars)
46.1 (3.6)
25.1 (3.7)
18.0 (3.0)
3.0 (2.8)
7.3 (1.2)
0.5 (0.5)
Suberin is a macromolecule of aliphatic nature. It is a structural component of the
cell wall, and its removal destroys cell integrity (Pereira and Marques 1988). Suberin is
polymeric and contains two types of monomers, glycerol and long chain fatty acids and
alcohols, which are linked by ester bonds between hydroxyl and carboxylic groups.
The monomeric composition of cork suberin is well-established. Numerous studies
have used chemical depolymerisation followed by GC-MS separation and identification of
the solubilized monomers (Graça and Pereira 2000) to make such determinations. Pyrolysis
was also used in some studies (Bento et al. 1998). Table 2 shows the main suberinic
monomers and their average proportions, by mass of the total solubilized products (Graça
and Pereira 2000) and in molar percentages of the identified compounds (Pereira 2007)
found in pure cork tissue (i.e., without any lenticular filling material and phloemic
inclusions). Several studies describe the monomeric composition of suberin (Arno et al.
1981; Holloway 1983; Garcia-Vallejo et al. 1997; Bento et al. 1998; Cordeiro et al. 1998;
Lopes et al. 2000a; Ferreira et al. 2012), but Graça and Pereira (2000) more closely
analyzed only the suberised cork tissue and quantified the monomers present using
standards and their response factors under the chromatographic conditions used.
Glycerol is the most important single monomer in cork, representing 40.8% of the
molecules released by methanolysis (14.2% of the mass of the solubilised products). The
long chain monomers are mainly ,-diacids and represent 36.4% of the monomers
(45.5% of the total mass); -hydroxyacids make up 21.0% of the monomers (26.3% of the
total mass). The most abundant single monomers are 9-epoxyoctadecanedioic acid (22.9%
of the total mass), 22-hydroxydocosanoic acid (7.9%), 9,10-dihydroxyoctadecanodioic
acid (7.7%), and 9-epoxy-18-hydroxyoctadecanoic acid (7.3%). Other important
monomers are 9-octadecenoic acid (6.2%) and 18-hydroxy-9-octadecenoic acid (5.4%). In
terms of chain length, most of the fatty acids have 18 carbons, corresponding to 56.8% of
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 7
all monomers. The second-most important chain length is 22 carbons, corresponding to
12.4% of the monomers. Only the C18-diacids and the C18-hydroxyacids exhibited mid-
chain functionalization.
Table 2. Monomeric Composition of Suberin in the Cork of Quercus suber as
Determined after Depolymerisation by Methanolysis, as the Mass Proportion of
the Total Solubilized Products and as the Molar Proportion of the Identified
Monomers (Graça and Pereira 2000; Pereira 2007)
Chemical classes and compounds
Mol %
CH3 (CH2)n CH2OH
Alkanoic acids
Saturated diacids
Hexadecanedioic acid
Octadecanedioic acid
Eicosanedioic acid
Docosanedioic acid
Tetracosanedioic acid
Substituted diacids
9-octadecenedioic acid
9-epoxioctadecanedioic acid
9,10-dihydroxyoctadecanedioic acid
Saturated -hydroxyacids
16-hydroxyhexadecanoic acid
18-hydroxyoctadecanoic acid
20-hydroxyeicodecanoic acid
22-hydroxydocosanoic acid
24-hydroxytetracosanoic acid
26-hydroxyhexacosanoic acid
Substituted -hydroxyacids
18-hydroxy-9-octadecenoic acid
9-epoxi-18-hydroxyoctadecanoic acid
9,10,18-trihydroxyoctadecanoic acid
Ferulic acid
Others and unidentified*
* Unidentified compounds represented 10.0%
Ferulic acid is also found in the solution of depolymerised aliphatic products. The
amounts of solubilized compounds reported varied from 0.5% (Table 2, Graça and Pereira
2000) to 1.3% to 1.5% (Graça and Pereira 1997; Lopes et al. 2000a) and 5% to 8% (Bento
et al. 1998, 2001a,b; Conde et al. 1998). Experimental conditions certainly play an
important role in such quantifications. The most recent determination of the amount of
ferulic acid released by suberin depolymerization showed that it represented 2.7% of the
suberin (Marques et al. 2015).
With respect to the macromolecular assembly, it is clear that suberin is a glyderidic
polyester with glycerol as the bridge between its long-chain monomeric units as the basis
for the three-dimensional development of the polymer (Graça and Pereira 1997). The
macromolecule includes glyceryl-acyl-glyceryl, glyceryl-acyl-acyl-glyceryl, and glyceryl-
acyl-feruloyl moieties, among other possibilities. Most of the aliphatic monomers in cork
suberin are functionalised at the mid-chain (Table 2), which adds stereochemical
constraints to the spatial development of the macromolecule.
The molar ratio of the long-chain lipids-to-the glycerol content (LCLip:Gly) has
been proposed as a chemical parameter to characterize the macromolecular structure of
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 8
suberin because it may be associated with the proportion of LCLip-intermonomeric
linkages in the macromolecule (Pereira 2013). The average ratio was found to be 3.2.
The degree of polymerization is not known, although mild depolymerization
yielded solubilized fragments containing up to approximately 40 long-chain components
(Bento et al. 2001b). Similarly, suberin solubilization using ionic liquids allowed
researchers to obtain polymeric, film-forming suberin fragments (Ferreira et al. 2012,
2013; Garcia et al. 2014).
A 3-D representation of a model structure proposed by Pereira (2007) for a
suberinic oligomer called attention to the fact that the structure is not linear and does not
undergo compact, space-filling development. However, an overall strip configuration
seems probable. This is still a subject of active research.
Figure 5 (left) represents the chemical structural of a hypothetical polymer of
glycerol and 9-epoxyoctadecanedioic acid (the main suberin monomer) showing a spatially
turning strand of repeating moieties. Figure 5 (right) also shows a possible arrangement for
an oligomer with various types of fatty acid monomers (using the main monomers of
suberin, although not in the proportions given by Table 2) as well as ferulic acid. It is clear
that the spatial arrangement strongly depends on the specific monomers assembled and on
the locations of their linkages. For instance, mid-chain functionalization (e.g., epoxy or
double-bond) leads to diverse stereochemical organizations. Further, the overall dimension
of the macromolecule causes spatial constraints.
Notwithstanding the hypothetical nature of the models presented, it is evident that
the suberin macromolecule occupies considerable space because of the long chain moieties,
and that glycerol acts as an anchoring and structuring point for the different monomeric
Fig. 5. Schematic 3-D representation of (left) a hypothetical polymer of glycerol and 9-
epoxyoctadenadioic acid, including 20 glycerol and 30 fatty acid monomers (molecular mass of
10632) and (right) suberin oligomer containing 8 glycerol, 10 different long-chain acids, and 2
ferulic acid monomers (molecular mass 4150)
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 9
Lignin is the second most important structural cell wall component in cork (Table
1). Different from suberin, lignin is not specific to cork and is present in most of the
secondary cellular tissues of plants. It has been studied for many decades due to its
importance in wood pulping, and more recently, for biomass deconstruction (Achyuthan et
al. 2010).
Lignin is of aromatic nature. It is a polymer made up of three types of
phenylpropane monomers (p-coumaryl, coniferyl, and sinapyl alcohols) linked by a free-
radical reaction initiated via enzymatic phenoxy radical formation. The inter-unit linkages
in the polymer can be of various types due to the different reactive sites present on the
monomers: -O-4’, -O-4’, 5’, 5-5’, 4-O-5’, or -1’. The specific proportions of
the monomers and intermonomeric linkages depend on the material.
The presence of lignin in cork was first shown by Marques et al. (1994), who
isolated and characterized a milled cork lignin (MCL), showing that it fulfills the chemical
requirements of what is considered lignin (Marques et al. 1996, 1999; Pascoal Neto et al.
1996). Cork lignin has a monomer composition of 95% guaiacyl units (G), 3% syringyl
units (S), and 2% 4-hydroxyphenyl units (H), with a methoxyl content of 14% (Marques et
al. 1996). The nature of cork lignin as G-type lignin was recently confirmed by Py-GC-
MS/FID (Marques and Pereira 2013). The inter-unit linkages in cork lignin are primarily
-O-4’ alkyl-aryl ether bonds (around 80%) and -5’ phenylcoumarans, with small
amounts of ’ resinols and 5-5’ dibenzodioxocins (Fig. 6) (Marques et al. 2015). Ferulic
acid linked by ether linkages with lignin was found to represent about 3% of the lignin
(Marques et al. 2015).
The average molecular formula of MCL was calculated as C9H8.74O2.82 (OCH3)0.85
with a mean degree of polymerization of approximately 40 (Marques et al. 1996).
Fig. 6. Main inter-unit linkages in cork lignin (using coniferyl alcohol as the monomer)
With respect to the macromolecule, cork lignin’s structure is largely a result of the
fact that the main inter-monomeric links are of the -O-4’ type. This results in a rather
linear structure that curves helicoidally but has anchor points at its aromatic rings. Figure
7 is a schematic representation of a lignin oligomer with 11 guaiacyl rings, eight -O-4’
bonds, and two -5’ inter-unit linkages that approximates the main known features of cork
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 10
Fig. 7. Schematic representation of a possible lignin oligomer (corresponding to a molecular
mass of 2106) containing 11 aromatic guaiacyl rings and eight -O-4’ and two -5 inter-
monomeric bonds
Cellulose and Hemicelluloses
Cork also includes cellulose and hemicelluloses as structural components, but in a
proportion much lower than their occurrence in wood (about 20% in cork vs. 70 to 80% in
The cellulose content in cork has been estimated at approximately 10% of the mass
of structural components and the hemicelluloses content has been estimated at about 12%
(Pereira 1988, 2013). The ratio of cellulose-to-hemicelluloses in cork, about 1:1.2, is very
different from the 1:0.4 ratio in wood, stressing the much less important role of cellulose
in cork.
Upon total hydrolysis, the extractives and suberin-free cork yields neutral sugars
and uronic acids. Glucose corresponds to 46% of the total neutral sugars, xylose to 25%,
and arabinose to 18%, accompanied by smaller amounts of galactose, mannose, and
rhamnose (Table 1). The uronic acid content of cork polysaccharides is approximately 12%
(Rocha et al. 2004). The hemicelluloses of cork include three xylans: 4-O-
methylglucuronoxylan, arabino-4-O-methylglucuronoxylan, and 4-O-methylglucurono-
arabinogalactoglucoxylan (Asensio 1987a,b, 1988a,b).
Many aspects of cork polysaccharides are unknown, such as the degree of
polymerization, the crystallinity of the cellulose, and the fibrillar orientation.
Topochemistry of Cork Cell Walls
The structural components of cork cell walls have a different chemical nature and
polymer features, as described previously. Table 3 summarizes their main characteristics.
It is clear by their proportions that most of the properties of cork are imparted by suberin
and lignin (together they represent an average of 79% of the total structural components)
and that their macromolecular features play a key role in the arrangement and assembly in
the cork cell wall.
Suberin is the primary component in the secondary wall of cork cells. Its deposition
begins very quickly after cell formation and continues along a few cells during their radial
expansion (Teixeira and Pereira 2009). Although many aspects of the macromolecular
structure of suberin are unknown, evidence given by transmission electron microscopy and
by chemical composition studies, as reviewed and discussed by Pereira (2007), suggest that
suberin has ribbon-like development with spaces between the monomers because of the
stereochemical arrangement of its structure (Fig. 5). The dimension in the direction
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 11
perpendicular to the cell wall is about 4 to 6 nm, which is consistent to the arrangement
shown in Fig. 5. The suberin molecule therefore includes carbons with two mobilities: most
have a higher mobility and a smaller proportion are more rigid (Lopes et al. 2000b),
corresponding the long chain CH2 carbons and the glyceridic carbons, respectively.
Lignin is incorporated into the cell wall and the middle lamella by occupying
available spaces between the suberin “ribbons” or becoming entangled with them during
their spatial development. The structure of lignin is characterized by the presence of
aromatic rings that give the molecule a rather concentrated spatial development and impart
bulk and rigidity. However the overall macromolecule should have a helically curving
structure favored by the main -O-4’ inter-monomeric links (Fig. 7). Therefore, the lignin
molecule is somewhat flexible, and it can be speculated that the lignin and the suberin
macromolecules can be somewhat paired within the secondary wall assembly. The removal
of suberin from cork cells therefore substantially reduces the secondary wall thickness to
about half (Teixeira and Pereira 2010) and disrupts the wall structure (Pereira and Marques
1988). Chemical links between aromatic and aliphatic regions occur, which explains the
analytical difficulty of isolating cork lignin (Marques et al. 1994, 1999). It has been
recently shown that ferulic acid plays a role in the cross-linking between the cork structural
polymers: it is esterified and bound to the suberinic monomers, and by ether links to lignin,
thereby acting as a bridge between them (Marques et al. 2015).
There are also links between aromatic units and hemicelluloses, forming lignin-
carbohydrate complexes (LCC) (Marques et al. 1994, 1996).
Cellulose is considered to constitute a tertiary wall lining the cells on the lumen-
side; hemicelluloses are also present in the primary wall. However, evidence for the
polysaccharides cell wall topochemistry and their specific interactions with the other
structural components is scarce.
Table 3. Main Characteristics of Cork Cell Wall Structural Components
Mass Proportion
Chemical Nature
Main Monomers
coniferyl alcohol
glucuronic acid
Minor Monomers
alkanoic acids
ferulic acid
sinapyl alcohol
coumaryl alcohol
ferulic acid
Main Intermonomeric
(1-4) glycosidic
(1-4) glycosidic
(1-2) glycosidic
3-D Development
helical strand
linear branched
Main Cell Wall
secondary wall
middle lamella
secondary wall
primary wall
tertiary wall
primary wall
tertiary wall
Chemical Affinity
The cellular features of cork and the chemical composition of its cell walls
determine the material’s properties. Some of the most iconic characteristics of cork are
described below, showing how the structure and chemical features of the structural
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 12
components explain the functionality of cork. Density, buoyancy, thermal insulation, fire
behavior, compression, and permeability are discussed.
Density and Buoyancy
The density of cellular materials is expressed as their solid mass fraction and the
density of the solid. The density of air-dried cork is usually about 150 to 160 kg m-3, but a
broader range of values can be observed in nature, as influenced by several factors.
The density of the solid (i.e., cell walls) is estimated as 1250 kg m-3 (Flores et al.
1992). As the cell wall density varies only slightly, the differences in cork density are
derived from its structural features such as cell size and cell wall corrugation (Fig. 1), the
proportion of earlycork and latecork in the annual ring (Fig. 3), the extent of porosity (Fig.
4), and inclusions and discontinuities.
The average dimensions of earlycork and latecork cells indicate densities of 110
and 420 kg m-3, respectively. The higher density of the latecork layer is clearly seen in Fig.
4. Large annual rings and thin annual rings have different densities, according to their
differing proportions of earlycork and latecork cells (95:5 and 75:25, respectively): 126
and 188 kg m-3, respectively.
The corrugation of the lateral prism walls of the earlycork cells also impacts the
materials density. The effect on density depends on the corrugation parameter (the
quotient between the length of the corrugated wall and the length of the wall if it were
straightened) in a way such that the density is higher when cells are more corrugated. The
straightening of the cell walls, by thermal treatments or boiling in water, will decrease cork
density; on the contrary, treatments that increase the cellular corrugation will yield denser
corks (e.g., the compression of a stopper in the neck of a bottle).
Regarding the porosity resulting from lenticular channels, the general tendency is
toward higher density values in corks with more and larger lenticular channels. In fact,
lenticular channels contain a filling material, and in most cases they are bordered by thicker
cells (Fig. 4).
Cork has been used since antiquity as a floatation device. The buoyancy of cork is
derived from its low density and the fact that the cells in cork are closed and without open
connections to one another at m level. Another reason for the floating capacity of cork is
the very small diffusion of water into it: the diffusion coefficient of water in cork has been
found to be between 1.4 x 10-10 m2 s-1 (Fonseca et al. 2013), 2 x 10-11 m2 s-1 at 20 °C (Rosa
and Fortes 1993), and 7 x 10-13 m2 s-1 at 25 °C (Marat-Mendes and Neagu 2004).
Thermal Insulation and Fire Behavior
The rate of heat transfer through cork is very low because of the material’s
structural characteristics. Its solid fraction is small, and the gas enclosed in the cells of cork
has low thermal conductivity. The cells are small and closed, which eliminates convection.
Radiation is reduced through repeated absorption and reflection at the numerous cork cell
walls. In comparison with other synthetic insulation foams, cork has smaller cells but
higher density, which results in comparable heat transfer properties. The chemical
composition of the cell wall of cork imparts appreciable thermal stability as compared to
that of synthetic polymers (e.g, polystyrene or polyurethane), which degrade and melt at
comparatively low temperatures. In cork, the small polysaccharides content and the thermal
stability of suberin (Sen et al. 2012a, 2014) facilitate better performance at elevated
temperatures. At 350 °C, cork maintains its cellular structure but has expanded cells and
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 13
thinner cell walls, as shown in Fig. 8. Even at very high temperatures over 2000 °C, the
cork structural backbone is maintained (Reculusa et al. 2006). This allows cork to be used
as an insulation layer in case of fire.
Fig. 8. Scanning electron micrographs of cork treated at 350 °C in air: tangential section (left) and
radial section (right)
Compression Behavior
Under compression, cork exhibits a behavior typical of cellular materials, with
some peculiarities. The stress-strain curves of cork have three phases associated with
different deformation processes (Gibson et al. 1981; Rosa and Fortes 1988; Anjos et al.
2008). The first phase represents small stress and deformation values up to a strain of
approximately 5 to 7%, corresponding to the elastic bending of the cells. This process is
practically fully reversible. The second region starts after the yield stress point and forms
a large plateau with a small slope until strains up to about 50%. This region corresponds to
the buckling of cells. The last phase, above strains of about 70%, shows a sharp increase
in stress and a steep slope, corresponding to the densification of the material and the
crushing of cells; the buckled cell walls touching each other; and the disappearance of the
empty volumes of the lumen. The full densification of the material occurs at a deformation
of about 85%.
Figure 9 exemplifies what occurs in cork, at the cellular level, during compression
along the stress-strain curve. Three strain levels are important for the use of corks in wine
bottling: 20, 30, and 50%, corresponding approximately to the deformation of a cork
stopper inside a wine bottle, in the bottling machine, and in a champagne bottle,
respectively. Although each point is located in the plateau region of the stress-strain curve,
they correspond to different intensities of cellular buckling.
Compression does not cause failure of the cork cells, and even in the densification
phase, the cell walls do not fracture. The recovery of the original dimensions after stress
removal is rapid and is associated with the unfolding of buckled cell walls. Permanent
deformation after 50% strain is small (-3 to -9%) and may be related to the lignocellulosic
cells that line the pores (Fig. 4) (Anjos et al. 2014).
Although anisotropic, the compressive behavior of cork in different directions is
similar. It does exhibit higher strength in the radial direction than in the non-radial (i.e.,
axial and tangential) directions. The values reported in the literature for the Young’s
modulus of cork are in the range of 10 to 20 MPa, with the same type of anisotropy between
radial and non-radial directions (Rosa et al. 1990; Rosa and Pereira 1994; Pereira et al.
1992; Anjos et al. 2008). In a recent comprehensive study of 200 cork samples, the Young’s
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 14
moduli averaged 10.4 and 9.2 MPa in the radial and non-radial directions, respectively
(Oliveira et al. 2014).
Fig. 9. Stress-strain curves for compression of cork with scanning electron micrographs of cork’s
cellular features, shown in the tangential section, at various axial compression strains
The variation in the dimensions in the directions perpendicular to the direction of
compression (i.e., the Poisson effect), is very small in cork (Fortes and Nogueira 1989).
This is related to the material’s ability to undulate its cell walls, allowing for large
deformation without lateral expansion.
It is logical that the relative proportion of cell walls, or in other words, the solid
fraction as given by cork density, influences compression. Cork samples with higher
density exhibit overall larger resistances to compression: their Young’s modulus and the
energy consumed to densify them increases with density, and densification tended to occur
earlier (at around 75%) (Anjos et al. 2008; Oliveira et al. 2014).
The chemical structure of the cork cell wall explains this behavior. The flexible
suberin macromolecule, with its long-chain linear monomers as shown in Fig. 5, allows for
cell wall undulation even to complete folding without fracture (Fig. 10).
Fig. 10. Scanning electron micrographs of cork’s cellular features after compression in the axial
direction at strains of approximately 50% (left) and 70% (right)
At the same time, the lignin macromolecule can accompany this deformation
because most inter-unit linkages are of the -O-4 type, which allows for flexibility (Fig. 7)
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 15
while the aromatic rings give compressive strength to the cell wall. Therefore, cork
compression should be related to the relative proportions of suberin and lignin in the cork,
and cork samples with relatively higher suberin contents require less stress for deformation
(Oliveira et al. 2014).
Cork is used for sealing purposes because of its low permeability and high
flexibility under compression. The permeability of cork to helium and other non-
condensable gases (oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide) was studied using a considerable
number of cork samples without macroscopic inhomogeneities such as lenticular channels
(Faria et al. 2011). The permeability coefficients were low but varied widely across three
orders of magnitude. Water-boiled cork (the pre-treatment that all raw cork planks undergo
before stopper production) exhibited lower permeability than non-boiled cork. For oxygen
permeation through boiled cork, the most probable permeability (distribution peak or
mode) is around 5 µmol/cm·atm·day and the 95th percentile is 223 µmol/cm·atm·day. For
non-boiled cork, the peak is around 25 µmol/cm·atm·day and the 95th percentile is around
593 µmol/cm·atm·day. Such large range of variation was also found for cork permeability
to oxygen when studying disc samples cut from stoppers (Lequin et al. 2012).
The mechanism for the permeability of cork to gases was established as transport
processes between cells through the small plasmodesmata channels (Fig. 2) under a
molecular flow regime (Brazinha et al. 2013). The transport followed a Knudsen molecular
flow mechanism with negligible contributions of viscous transport to the total flux. The
driving force that regulates gas transport through cork is the gradient of the partial pressure
of the gas. A model was developed, based on the morphology of the cork cell structure (the
cell dimensions and the plasmodesmata features) that fitted well the determined
experimental values. Others have considered that the limiting step for oxygen transport is
the diffusion in cell walls (Lagorce-Tachon et al. 2014).
The permeation of vapors and liquids through cork was found to differ from the
described permeation of non-condensable gases (Fonseca et al. 2013). From studies with
ethanol and water vapors and liquids, it was found that these species permeate not only
through the small channels of the plasmodesmata but also through the walls of the cork by
sorption and diffusion, as schematically represented in Fig. 11. The overall permeation of
water was higher than that of ethanol by approximately 4 times in the vapor phase and 14
times in the liquid phase due to the larger size of the ethanol molecule.
Fig. 11. Schematic representation of the flow of non-condensable gases, vapors, and liquids
through the cork cell wall (Fonseca et al. 2013)
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 16
The permeation of liquids was higher than the permeation of vapors by a factor of
2.5 for water and of 1.2 for ethanol. It was also interesting that wetting via exposure to
liquid water or ethanol caused an irreversible decrease of the cork’s permeability to gases.
This explains the lower permeability of water-boiled cork than that of the non-boiled cork
(Faria et al. 2011).
The permeability of cork is of major practical interest for its use as a wine stopper.
Under use conditions, when a stopper is inserted in the neck of a bottle, a recent study
(Oliveira et al. 2014) examined the oxygen ingress rates into the bottle for a large number
of samples. Although the kinetics were similar, a large variation was found, which is in
line with the findings of Faria et al. (2011).
It is clear that permeability of cork to gases is related to its anatomical features
(namely the cell wall plasmodesmata, their number, and their orientation) in conjunction
with the cell’s dimensional features. The permeation of vapors and liquids is associated
with the cork cell wall’s chemical composition and topochemistry. It is probable that a
large part of the natural variation found in cork’s performance as a wine sealant is related
to such fundamental characteristics.
The properties of cork are based, as previously discussed, on the features of its
cellular structure and its chemical composition. Together, these properties endow the
material with its “cork” nature. As discussed, the existing natural variation in cork
influences the material’s properties to a certain extent but does not impair its overall
performance. The limits of this natural variation are important to define the material as
cork. Regarding the structure of cork, a quantified appraisal of the existing variation in
the cell dimensions and topology has not been made beyond the works of Pereira et al.
(1987, 1992). A large part of the variability in cork performance will be related to the cell
prism height and the frequency distribution of its values. Knowledge as to the factors that
may impact cork growth, such as climatic conditions, will allow for better understanding
of cork’s structural variability and the influence of this variability on its properties.
One aspect of interest is the estimate of the macroscopic dimensional limit required
for the material to exhibit cork-like performance. The minimum particle size required to
maintain such performance would be interesting to determine. When the dimensions of
cork particles are reduced, the number of closed cells decreases, the external surface of the
particle is enlarged, and consequently, the number of open, through-cut cells increases. An
extreme case is illustrated in Fig. 12 in which cork was finely ground to particles less than
0.1 mm in size, showing that the cells were destroyed and mostly cell fragments remained.
The chemical components of the cork are preserved but the material’s structure is not.
Consequently, the overall “cork” nature is lost.
This is of interest due to the increasing production and use of composites in which
cork particles are bound with adhesives or combined with other materials. A cork particle
of volume 0.015 mm3 (e.g., a cube of edge length 0.25-mm of edge) contains about 500
cells (7 to 9 cells per one row), of which only a fraction (6 to 8 cells in one row) will be
closed. This particle size should likely be the smallest size to maintain the typical cork
behavior, even when used in cork-derived composites. Figure 12 shows an example of a
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 17
cork granulate fraction obtained by separation between 0.18- and 0.25-mm sieves in which
the effect of the particle size on the number of cells can be observed.
Fig. 12. Scanning electron micrographs of cork granules: (left) particles ground to below 0.1 mm
in size and (right) granulometric fraction retained between 0.18- to 0.25-mm sieves.
Data regarding the natural variation of the chemical composition of the cork cell
wall exists. Large sampling and chemical analyses of reproduction cork (96 samples,
Pereira 2013; 10 samples, Pereira 1988) and virgin cork (40 samples, Pereira 1988) allow
for insight into the natural variation found in cork and into its overall average chemical
composition. The content of suberin in the cell wall is the most important chemical attribute
of cork since this is its most unique feature and is directly related to most of the typical
properties of cork.
The suberin content is, on average, 52.8% of the mass of the structural components
of cork, with a rather narrow standard deviation of 7.3% (Table 1). It is true that some
samples have suberin contents outside this interval. Although this leads to variation in its
properties, such as its compression variables, abnormal suberin contents still allow the
material to behave as cork.
When cork is mixed with other materials, such as in composites, it would be
interesting to understand how the cork fraction influences the composites properties and
at what point the material loses its “cork” performance; in other words what is the minimum
content of cork in a mixture to still have a cork-like behavior. Unfortunately, experimental
data are not available. However, some estimates may be made using existing chemical data
and statistics (Table 1). If one considers that the minimum suberin content required to
impart the required cork properties is the mean value (52.8% of the mass of the structural
components) minus two standard deviation values (two times 7.3%), than this value will
correspond to a suberin content of 38.2% of the mass of the structural components, which
is a rather rare value as compared to the natural occurrence range. In the case of mixtures
of cork with other materials in composites, a minimum cork content of 72% of an average
cork would be required to maintain such a minimum suberin content, and therefore to
preserve the general cork properties of the composite. Therefore, a composite material with
such a proportion of cork would still exhibit the known cork performance. This is certainly
a matter for which targeted experimental research is needed.
Cork is a natural cellular material of biological origin with an interesting and unique
combination of properties. It has low density, buoyancy, very low permeability, low
Pereira (2015). “Rationale of cork properties,” BioResources 10(3), Pg #s to be added. 18
thermal coefficients, elasticity, and withstands large deformation without fracture under
compression. These properties are the reason for the material’s various applications,
namely as a sealant and insulator.
Cork’s properties are the combined result of the features of its cellular structure,
particularly its cell dimensions and topology, its cell wall ultrastructure, and the cell wall
chemical composition. The chemicals in the cell wall include suberin, the major chemical
component and cork’s fingerprint. Together, these properties define cork’s behavior.
This research was carried out in the Centro de Estudos Florestais, a research unit
funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (Portugal) within PEst-
OE/AGR/UI0239/2014. Thanks are due to Duarte Neiva for helping to design the
molecular lignin and suberin models, Rita Teixeira for the TEM figures, and Vanda
Oliveira for the microtomography figures.
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Article submitted: February 16, 2015; Peer review completed: June 10, 2015; Revised
version received: June 15, 2015; Accepted: June 24, 2015; Published: July 2, 2015.
DOI: 10.15376/biores.10.3.Pereira
... En particulier, les matériaux cellulaires a hautes performances mécaniques, thermiques et/ou acoustiques, ont permis de réaliser des gains substantiels notamment en termes de légèreté et prestations. Dans une optique de développement durable, de nombreuses recherches ontété consacrées, ces dernières décennies,à l'étude d'un matériau cellulaire naturel, réutilisable et recyclable : le liège [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]. En effet, grâceà sa microstructure particulière et ses caractéristiques physicochimiques, le liège présente des propriétés thermiques et acoustiques très intéressantes, qui le rendent apteà de nombreuses applications industrielles, notamment sous forme d'aggloméré (particules de lièges noyées dans une résine). ...
... Les canaux lenticulaires varient considérablement, en dimensions, en fonction de la génétique de l'arbre (pores de moins de 0.1 mm 2 de section transversaleà plus de 100 mm 2 ). La quantité de canaux lenticulaires est généralement définie par un coefficient de porosité (rapport entre la section transversale des pores et la surface totale de la section du liège) qui varie généralement entre 2% et un peu plus de 15% [11]. La qualité du liège est principalement déterminée par sa porosité et par des défauts qui peuvent apparaître occasionnellement. ...
... Durant cette dernière phase, les parois cellulaires déformées entrent en contact et les vides ont tendanceà disparaître. [11]. ...
Cette thèse porte sur le développement de modèles multi-échelle et multi-physiques de l’aggloméré de liège dans le but de développer une première contribution à la compréhension du comportement des composites à base de liège. Ce travail contribue au développement de nouvelles méthodes de conception basées sur des approches systématiques. Le travail de thèse est focalisé sur les agglomérés blancs. Un premier modèle numérique 2D de l’agglomère à l’échelle mésoscopique a été développé afin de comprendre le comportement thermomécanique local des granules de liège. Ceci a permis d’étudier l’influence de certains paramètres de conception sur les propriétés thermoélastiques de l’aggloméré à l’échelle macroscopique. À la suite de ce premier travail, le modèle numérique 2D de l’aggloméré a été généralisé et un nouveau modèle numérique 3D a été développé. Une stratégie d’homogénéisation, basée sur une approche stochastique, a été développée afin d’étudier l’influence de la variabilité des propriétés élastiques du liège naturel sur les propriétés élastiques de l’aggloméré en fonction de la température. Les résultats obtenus grâce à ces travaux peuvent être utiles dans une logique d'aide à la décision pour la conception de l'aggloméré par la méthode essai/erreur. Enfin, l’état de pré-contrainte au sein de l’aggloméré fabriqué par moulage par compression a été évalué à travers la simulation du processus de compression. L’approche proposée est basée sur une simulation de la phase de remplissage du moule suivie d’une phase de compression. Les courbes contrainte-déformation du granulé, dépendants du temps et à différents états de déformation, représentent un premier résultat utile comme donnée d’entrée dans une démarche de conception qui tient compte des effets du procédé de fabrication
... The number of cells per cm 3 fluctuates from 4 to 7 × 10 7 for early cork and late cork from 10 to 20 × 10 7 [90]. Another important characteristic is the non-uniform undulations of the cell walls, which vary from cell to cell, as well as the roughness of their surface [93]. Some totally corrugated cells are observed, together with a few collapsed cells (see Figure 8a). ...
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In the present study, titanium dioxide (TiO2) nano-photocatalysts were synthesized through microwave irradiation. In a typical microwave synthesis, TiO2 nanomaterials were simultaneously produced in powder form and also directly covering cork substrates. The TiO2 nanopowder was analyzed by X-ray diffraction (XRD), Raman spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), revealing that the solvothermal microwave synthesis resulted only in the TiO2 anatase phase. From Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), cork’s organic species, along with bands of TiO2, were detected. UV–VIS absorption spectrum revealed an absorption extension to the visible region, since a brown powdered TiO2 product was obtained. Very fine nanoparticles were observed displaying a nearly spherical shape that agglomerates in larger particles. These larger particles fully covered the surface of the honeycomb cork cells, originating TiO2 functionalized cork platforms. The TiO2 functionalized substrates were further tested as floating photocatalysts and their photocatalytic activity was assessed from rhodamine B degradation under solar simulating light and natural sunlight. Reusability tests were also performed under natural sunlight. The strategy applied in this research work allowed the production of green and low-cost cork platforms based on TiO2 photoactive materials with the ability to purify polluted water under natural sunlight.
... At such high temperatures, which are easily reached during forest fire events, increased volume expansion of the cutin polymer might cause additional defects to the wax barrier resulting in an increase in cuticular water permeability (Burghardt & Riederer 2006). The suberized phellem of Quercus suber has a relatively high thermal stability and low thermal conductivity (Pereira 2015). The insulating effect will depend on the thickness of the tissues outside the youngest phellogen and probably ultimately on the quantity of suberized filling tissue in the lenticel. ...
Lenticels can be defined as pores that are the entrance of a continuous aeration system from the atmosphere via the living bark to the secondary xylem in the otherwise protective layers of the periderm. Most work on lenticels has had an anatomical focus but the structure-function relationships of lenticels still remain poorly understood. Gas exchange has been considered the main function of lenticels, analogous to the stomata in leaves. In this perspective review, we introduce novel ideas pertaining to lenticel functions beyond gas exchange. We review studies on lenticel structure, as this knowledge can give information about structure-function relationships. The number of species investigated to-date is low and we provide suggestions for staining techniques for easy categorization of lenticel types. In the follow-up sections we review and bring together new hypotheses on lenticel functioning in the daily “normal operation range”, including regulative mechanisms for gas exchange and crack prevention, the “stress operation range” comprising flooding, drought and recovery from drought and the “emergency operation range”, which includes infestation by insects and pathogens, wounding and bending. We conclude that the significance of dermal tissues and particularly of lenticels for tree survival has so far been overlooked. This review aims to establish a new research discipline called “ Phytodermatology ”, which will help to fill knowledge gaps regarding tree survival by linking quantitative and qualitative lenticel anatomy to tree hydraulics and biomechanics. A first step into this direction will be to screen more species from a great diversity of biomes for their lenticel structure.
... Lignin is another hydrophobic polymer present on cork which works as the mechanical support of cell walls, believed to be the principal aromatic fraction of cork [61,62]. Studies indicate that lignin appears in the three layers from cork cell walls, although at different concentrations [63]. ...
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There is a drive within the cosmetic industry towards the development of more sustainable products, supported by consumer awareness of the environmental footprint. The cosmetic industry is rising to meet consumer demand by following practices, such as the use of by-products from agro-industrial waste. Quercus suber is a tree prevalent in the Mediterranean basin. The extraction of cork is considered sustainable, as this process does not harm the tree, and the amount of cork produced increases with the number of extractions. Beyond this, the cork industry produces by-products that are used to sustain the industry itself, such as cork powder, which is reused for generating energy. Additionally, cork and cork by-products contain bioactive compounds mainly with antioxidant activity that can be of use to the cosmetic industry, such as for antiaging, anti-acne, anti-inflammatory, and depigmenting cosmetic products. We provide the reader with an overview of the putative cosmetic applications of cork and its by-products as well as of their bioactive compounds. It is noteworthy that only a few cork-based cosmetic products have reached the market, namely antiaging and exfoliant products. Clearly, the use of cork upcycled cosmetic ingredients will evolve in the future considering the wide array of biological activities already reported.
This work presents the evaluation of the porosity by image analysis, the quantitative analysis of the cell morphology from images obtained by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and the oxygen transmission rate (OTR) of natural corks of different visual quality grades. Due to the natural variability of cork stoppers, statistically significant differences could not be established in the porosity of the corks according to their commercial quality. However, the determination of the surface porosity coefficient by image analysis in the tangential and axial sections of the corks allowed us to distinguish between high, medium and low quality classes. The cells in the tangential section were shaped between circular and hexagonal, with very regular perimeters regardless of the cork quality. While the cells of the radial and axial sections showed a square and rectangular shape, with more irregular perimeters, mainly in the lowest quality corks and in the axial section. Corks commercially classified as “flower”, “second” and “third” had the lowest OTR values and presented a similar statistical distribution in their cell perimeters in the axial section. While the corks with higher OTR values (superior and fourth qualities) corresponded with those with greater cell perimeters and greater dispersion in their distribution.
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Leaves are the major plant tissue for transpiration and carbon fixation in deciduous trees. In harsh habitats, atmospheric CO2 assimilation via stem photosynthesis is common, providing extra carbon gain to cope with the detrimental conditions. We studied two almond species, the commercial Prunus dulcis cultivar “Um-el-Fahem” and the rare wild Prunus arabica. Our study revealed two distinctive strategies for carbon gain in these almond species. While, in P. dulcis, leaves possess the major photosynthetic surface area, in P. arabica, green stems perform this function, in particular during the winter after leaf drop. These two species' anatomical and physiological comparisons show that P. arabica carries unique features that support stem gas exchange and high-gross photosynthetic rates via stem photosynthetic capabilities (SPC). On the other hand, P. dulcis stems contribute low gross photosynthesis levels, as they are designed solely for reassimilation of CO2 from respiration, which is termed stem recycling photosynthesis (SRP). Results show that (a) P. arabica stems are covered with a high density of sunken stomata, in contrast to the stomata on P. dulcis stems, which disappear under a thick peridermal (bark) layer by their second year of development. (b) P. arabica stems contain significantly higher levels of chlorophyll compartmentalized to a mesophyll-like, chloroplast-rich, parenchyma layer, in contrast to rounded-shape cells of P. dulcis's stem parenchyma. (c) Pulse amplitude-modulated (PAM) fluorometry of P. arabica and P. dulcis stems revealed differences in the chlorophyll fluorescence and quenching parameters between the two species. (d) Gas exchange analysis showed that guard cells of P. arabica stems tightly regulate water loss under elevated temperatures while maintaining constant and high assimilation rates throughout the stem. Our data show that P. arabica uses a distinctive strategy for tree carbon gain via stem photosynthetic capability, which is regulated efficiently under harsh environmental conditions, such as elevated temperatures. These findings are highly important and can be used to develop new almond cultivars with agriculturally essential traits.
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Cork granules (Quercus suber L.) were slowly pyrolyzed at temperatures between 400-700 °C and under N2 flow. While preserving its structure, some cells of the cork biochar became interconnected, allowing such carbon residue to be used asntemplates for manufacturing ceria redox materials. The pyrolytic char morphology was similar to that of the natural precursor. The produced cork biochar belonged to Class 1 (C > 60%) and possessed a high heating value of 32 MJ kg−1. Other pyrolysisderived compounds were identified and quantified through GC-FID and GC-MS analyses. The yield of gases released during cork pyrolysis was strongly dependent on the temperature used due to the thermal decomposition reactions involved in the degradation of cork. In particular, rising pyrolysis temperature from 500 to 700 ºC resulted in reducing the total hydrocarbon gases from 74 to 24 vol%. On the other hand, the yield of H2 increased from 0 to 58% by increasing the pyrolysis temperature from 400 to 700 ºC. Due to the presence of suberin in cork, the composition and yield of bio-oil could be regulated by the pyrolysis temperature. Cork bio-oil was found to consist of long-chain hydrocarbons (from C11 to C24). The bio-oil resulting from the slow pyrolysis of cork residues is suitable as an appropriate feedstock for producing aliphatic-rich pyrolytic biofuels or as a source of olefins. Overall, the findings of this study suggest that Quercus suber L. could be a promising feedstock for biochar and biofuel production through the pyrolytic route and could contribute to the environmental and economic sustainability of the cork production industry.
Cork, the bark of Quercus suber L., in addition to presenting several notable physical-mechanical properties, possesses a distinctive look and feel that make it attractive for interior surfaces, such as in furniture, wall paneling, or flooring. This work envisaged the development of a coating based on cork granules, a subproduct from the wine stopper industry, capable of creating a smooth surface similar to natural cork. In order to avoid the high rugosity that characterizes surfaces coated with paints that incorporate cork granules, a new solution was developed, based on a foamed acrylic binder, applied by knife coating. The foam formulation was successfully optimized, using appropriate additives and resorting to mechanical agitation to promote the generation of air bubbles. The addition of cork granules did not hinder foam stability, and the final coating displayed the intended visual and sensory characteristics. Dynamic Mechanical Analysis was performed on the pristine acrylic foam and on the composite foam showed a stiffening effect associated with the presence of cork granules, and a thermal transition centered at around −10 °C, associated with the acrylic binder’s glass transition. The surface has hardness slightly lower than cork, depending on the amount of particles incorporated. Pull-off testing consistently resulted in substrate failure, indicating that the coating’s cohesion and adhesion are excellent. The developed coating showed to have the intended functionality while being easily applicable on flat panel surfaces. The fact that a foam is used as a binder system allows for a smooth and soft surface, having excellent opacity with minimal usage of cork.
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Cork stoppers are the preferred choice for sealing bottled wines around the world. However, the quality of cork stoppers is also defined by the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), which gives the wine an unpleasant moldy/musty taste. It is a matter of concern for both cork stopper manufacturers and wine producers whether TCA can be transported between stoppers. As little is known about cross contamination between stoppers, this work provides enough experimental data to discuss the extent of TCA transfer in naturally contaminated stoppers in the liquid and gas phase that can be useful to the cork industry and the wine industry. We found that when a clean stopper is soaked together with a contaminated one in hydro-alcoholic solution, 12% of the TCA can be transferred. In gas-phase contamination, only stoppers with 12 ng/L, or more, contaminate clean stoppers when enclosed together for several days. In a second experiment, where clean corks were exposed to a controlled contaminated environment, it was found that TCA contamination was not confined to the outermost layer of the stoppers. Based on these findings, some recommendations are given to prevent TCA cross contamination between stoppers during the cork stopper manufacturing, storage, wine making, and bottling.
Oxygen permeability data is relevant for selecting wine bottles closures. Market available stoppers, two natural and eight microagglomerated corks, were analysed for the oxygen ingress over time in stoppered bottles, under different temperatures (8, 23, and 40 °C), with and without contact between cork and wine simulant. Weibull model described well the oxygen ingress. Differences were found between cork types in long-term oxygen pressure (Po) and ingress rates (τ). For microagglomerated corks, Po increased, and τ decreased with temperature, following the Arrhenius behaviour, with estimated activation energies of 15.3 and 35.2 kJ mol⁻¹, respectively. Microagglomerated corks exhibited slower initial oxygen ingress but higher long-term oxygen ingress than natural corks. Principal Component Analysis (PCA) showed that factors related to the bottleneck-cork interface contributed more to the variance of the system than cork type. Liquid contact reduces oxygen ingress around five times. The temperature impact in the oxygen ingress was lower for natural corks.
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This research deepens knowledge on the properties of Algerian cork, by reporting the relationship between two main characteristics in terms of physical appearance (porosity and density); and of the chemical composition of the material. Samples in natural cork belonging to three quality classes used by the cork industry were selected from planks, extracted from representative trees of six origins of the Algerian North [Jijel, Guelma, Tizi-Ouzou, M'Sila (Oran), Tennes (Chlef) and Hafir (Tlemcen)]. For every provenance the porosity, the density of the cork and the chemical composition were determined. Results obtained show that the chemical composition of the cork (Suberin, lignin and extractives) is relatively homogeneous about the geographical position (p>0.05). This situation changes by adopting the concept of the geographical area of the cork oak and the quality. Indeed, suberin which is the main contents of the suber (34.45 %), was linked to the good quality classes and tends to yield every time the porosity and density, as well as raised the extractives.
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The structure of lignin and suberin, and ferulic acid (FA) content in cork from Quercus suber L. were studied. Extractive-free cork (Cork), suberin, desuberized cork (Corksap), and milled-cork lignins (MCL) from Cork and Corksap were isolated. Suberin composition was determined by GC-MS/FID, whereas the polymers structure in Cork, Corksap, and MCL was studied by Py-TMAH and 2D-HSQC-NMR. Suberin contained 94.4% of aliphatics and 3.2% of phenolics, with 90% of ω-hydroxyacids and α,ω-diacids. FA represented 2.7% of the suberin monomers, overwhelmingly esterified to the cork matrix. Py-TMAH revealed significant FA amounts in all samples, with about 3% and 6% in cork and cork lignins, respectively. Py-TMAH and 2D-HSQC-NMR demonstrated that cork lignin is a G-lignin (>96% G units), with a structure dominated by β-O-4′ alkyl-aryl ether linkages (80% and 77% of all linkages in MCL and MCLsap, respectively), followed by phenylcoumarans (18% and 20% in MCL and MCLsap, respectively), and smaller amounts of resinols (ca. 2%) and dibenzodioxocins (1%). HSQC also revealed that cork lignin is heavily acylated (ca. 50%) exclusively at the side-chain γ-position. Ferulates possibly have an important function in the chemical assembly of cork cell walls with a cross-linking role between suberin, lignin and carbohydrates.
Image-analysis techniques were applied to the surface of wine cork stoppers (tops and bodies) of the standard seven commercial quality classes to characterize their porosity. Canonical discriminant analysis (CDA) and stepwise discriminant analysis (SDA) were used to differentiate quality class and to identify the best features to select these classes. The accuracy of classification using CDA functions was on average greater than 50% for the seven commercial classes and was greater than 67% for a simplified three-grade classification. Based on the independent variables of the first CDA function determined by the stepwise method, a set of features was selected for use in decision rules for cork stopper classification: porosity coefficient and maximum pore dimensions (length and area) for bodies and porosity coefficient and number of pores for tops. Threshold limits for each feature were established for each quality class and a classification algorithm was applied. Results showed an overall match in class yield of 86% and better class homogeneity and separation. These are proposed as a foundation for future standardization of cork stopper classification based on image analysis and computerized vision systems selection of quantified features to ensure uniformity and transparency in trade while maintaining the overall economical feasibility in industrial processing.
This comprehensive book describes cork as a natural product, as an industrial raw-materials, and as a wine bottle closure. From its formation in the outer bark of the cork oak tree to the properties that are of relevance to its use, cork is presented and explained including its physical and mechanical properties. The industrial processing of cork from post-harvest procedures to the production of cork agglomerates and composites is described. Intended as a reference book, this is the ideal compilation of scientific knowledge on state-of-the-art cork production and use Key Features: *Presents comprehensive coverage from cork formation to post-harvest procedures *Explains the physical properties, mechanical properties and quality of cork *Addresses topics of interest for those in food science, agriculture and forestry.
The depolymerization and subsequent analysis of cork suberins from the outer barks of Pseudotsuga menziesii and Quercus suber was performed using a simplified methanolysis procedure. The amount of sodium methoxide catalyst was maintained at 20-30 mM and the methanolysis mixture was submitted to trimethylsilyl derivatisation and used directly for gas chromatographic analysis, allowing simultaneous quantification of glycerol and long-chain monomers. Response factors for glycerol, ferulic acid and one saturated homologue representing each of the suberinic families (i.e. the 1-alkanols, 1-alkanoic acids, ω-hydroxyacids and α,ω-diacids) were determined. Effective depolymerization of suberin was checked using the infrared specta of the residues after methanolysis. Glycerol is a major constituent of the suberins from P. menziesii (26% of total) and from Q. suber (14%). In both suberins, α,ω-diacids are dominant, i.e. 54% of the long-chain monomers in P. menziesii (mostly saturated C16-C22 homologues and the C18 unsaturated diacid), and 53% in Q. suber (mostly the C18 unsaturated diacid and mid-chain oxygenated (epoxide and vic-diol) derivatives). In P. menziesii epoxyacids are absent. The importance of glycerol and α,ω-diacids as suberin monomers supports a polymeric structure based on their successive esterification.