Application of wood vinegar, a bio-herbicide from lignocellulosic wastes to replace glyphosate, which causes serious effects on human health and environment
Legislation on the use of herbicides establishes a framework that aims to achieve the sustainable use of plant protection products by reducing the effects on human health and environment. Glyphosate is a non-selective organophosphorus herbicide which currently does not have a good chemical substitute. Herbicides formulated with glyphosate are used in the control of weeds. However, other plants and animals are also exposed to their effects. In 2015, it was classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as "probably carcinogenic to humans". Moreover, in February 2019 a new study linked glyphosate to lymphoma (Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides and Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: A Meta-Analysis and Supporting Evidence).
Therefore, some countries have forbidden the sale of these herbicides and some municipalities have limited its use in public parks.
Demonstration works to verify the technical, economic and environmental viability of the application of natural bio-herbicides have been developed in Castilla-La Mancha. Wood vinegar is obtained by condensation of gases produced in the thermal treatment of lignocellulosic wastes and consists mainly of water (80-90%) and more than 200 organic compounds (10-20%), being acetic acid the major component. This product is innovative because of the environmental improvements, and its safety for human health.
Administrations, forest companies and agents related to the agricultural sector are beneficiaries of this GP.

Resources needed

The experiments were first carried out in collaboration with the government of Castilla-La Mancha, then with a private company, Matinsa and finally with the support of the LIFE programme, LIGNOBIOLIFE. All of them provided financial support for the development of the project.

Evidence of success

First experiments with different weed species were carried out in phytotron and roadsides in Castilla-La Mancha in June 2016. Over 3000 L of wood vinegar used as bio-herbicide in over 4000 m2 of roadsides in Castilla-La Mancha. Moreover, development of a qualitative scale of the effect of wood vinegar on ruderal weeds and an European demonstration project is being developed to assess and diffuse the potential applications of bio-products such as wood vinegar, LIGNOBIOLIFE (2017 LIFE project).

Difficulties encountered

The information related to the application of this kind of bio-products is very scarce. Furthermore, there is no specific legislation that will promote its commercialization.

Potential for learning or transfer

Wood vinegar is a bio-product with excellent properties as a bio-herbicide. The application of this natural herbicide would avoid the use of chemical pesticides such as glyphosate, which have serious effects on human health as well as on the environment. In addition, wood vinegar is produced from forest wastes so it is especially interesting due to its low carbon footprint, an aspect of great importance to reach a low carbon economy.
In the framework of the project LIGNOBIOLIFE, wood vinegar is being used in agriculture because it is environmentally friendly and safe for human health.
Some public entities and companies within the agricultural and weed prevention sector have shown their interest in the application of wood vinegar as a natural bio-herbicide.

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Main institution
Chair of Environment (University of Alcala), Cátedra de Medio Ambiente (Universidad de Alcalá)
Comunidad de Madrid, Spain (España)
Start Date
June 2012
End Date


María Caberta Please login to contact the author.

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