Trees, like animals, get tagged with radio chips: the chips help timber companies keep track of their product and fight illegal logging. Unfortunately, metal RFID chips damage the goods — a problem the European research institute Fraunhofer has solved with a wood radio chip. The chip contains a tiny metal antenna that emits its signal; however the amount of metal is so small that it has a negligible effect on the lumber’s quality. The rest of the radio-frequency identification tag is made of lignin, which is derived from the cell walls of plants.
Conventional chips must be dug out of the tree to guarantee quality wood products, leading many foresters to use their own systems of colored flags or spray paint. But the lack of standardization creates confusion, particularly for small companies which are less likely to have computerized inventories, and opens loopholes for illegal logging.
The new wood chips can’t convey much information, but the tree’s ID number is enough: the rest of the data about where it came from and when it was logged can be linked to its ID in the company’s computers. As a logging truck passes through a special scanner gate, all of the information is quickly registered.