The warship Vasa A Study of Lignin, Extractives and Acids in the oak wood
Abstract: The oak wood timbers of the 17th century Swedish warship Vasa are weak. The weakening has been attributed to cellulose degradation, which is more extensive in the interior of the timbers compared to the surface regions. Further, the mechanism of cellulose degradation was attributed to oxidative reactions involving iron as a catalyst. In this work, the non-cellulosic wood components (lignin and extractives) in the wood of the Vasa have been studied in order to assess the level of degradation possibly caused by oxidative reactions. Because the interior of the wood timbers is more acidic and its cellulose more depolymerized than at the near surface regions, a general study of organic acidand iron concentrations with respect to different depths from the surface was also performed.Characterization of lignin in the wood of the Vasa was done by means of wet chemical degradation (thioacidolysis) and subsequent GC-MS analysis of the degradation products, as well as CP/MAS 13C NMR spectroscopy of the wood. Dry acetone- and water extracts of the wood were analyzed by 13C NMR spectroscopy and MALDI-TOF mass spectroscopy in order to study the presence of gallo- and ellagitannins. No severe lignin degradation and no discernible amounts of hydrolysable tannins in the oak wood of the Vasa were detected, indicating that oxidative reactions are not the primary route to cellulose depolymerization.High amounts of oxalic acid (analyzed by HPIEC) and a low pH have been found in the interior of the wood timbers, supporting acid hydrolysis as the main mechanism of cellulose depolymerization. Analysis of the iron distribution using ICP AES shows that iron is most abundant in the surface of the timbers and decreases as the concentration of oxalic acid increases. Experimental work also shows that some iron species (rust) in the Vasa neutralize oxalic acid, thereby protecting the surface wood from acid hydrolysis.
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