The history of cork inextricably linked with that of mankind. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Babylonians, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Persians all discovered the potential of cork oak bark (Quercus Suber L), and used it to make endless variety of everyday objects. Long before Christ was born, it was used in shoes, buoys and fishing gear. Nowadays it is transformed into valuable and unique fashion and design items and incorporated into cutting-edge sports equipment. In ancient Egypt, it was used as a stopper for amphorae – today it protects fine wines. Champagnes and beers; it has shaped and named beehives and, many centuries later, has been used to convent cells from cold and humidity. In contemporary life, it continues to insulate our homes. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was used in the caravels in which Portuguese navigators explored the world – today, it is used in spacecrafts in search of new worlds.
In a society that wants to be more environmentally friendly and forward thinking, cork is the only material 100% natural, sustainable and recyclable, with a wealth of uses and properties, that no technology has been able to replicate to this day.
A Sanctuary of Biodiversity
Unique and delicate, the cork oak forest is one of the richest ecosystem in the world, which environmental NGOS identify as one of the 35 global biodiversity hotspots, among natural wonders such as the Andes, Borneo, Africa and Amazonia. It is home to more than 160 species of birds, 24 species of reptiles and amphibians and 37 species of mammals, some of which are highly endangered. In every 1.000 m2, there are about 135 plant species, some with aromatic, culinary or medicinal properties. It is a true example of conservation, possible only thanks to the economic, social and environmental value that the world assigns to cork.
From Root to Leaf
The cork oak plays an unparalleled role in soil conservation, and the economic value of cork is a crucial incentive for the maintenance and expansion of cork oak forest. Throughout its life-cycle, the cork oak absorbs nutrients from the depths of the earth, which it returns to the soil when shedding its leaves. In this way, it stimulates the production of organic matter that produces fertile soil, improves rainwater retention and replenishes groundwater. The same leafy crowns that house several animal species also reduce wind speed, protecting the soils against wind erosion. Moreover, thanks to the insulating properties of cork, the cork oak is an important bulwark against forest fires.
Longevity and regeneration are unique properties of the cork oak. It is a noble tree that lives an average of 200 years, during which time it may be harvested 15 to 18 times. The first harvest of the cork- referred to as virgin cork-takes place when the tree is 25 years old and the perimeter of its trunk, 1.30m above the ground, exceeds 70 cm. any subsequent harvest is carried out every nine years, without harming the growth of the cork oak. Cork production does not destroy the trees. In fact, after harvesting, the cork oak undergoes a self-regeneration process unseen in any other forest species.Cork is remarkably eco-efficient. Cork obtained from the first two harvests- not yet having the quality required for cork stoppers is used in aggregates for construction and other materials. Later, the waste from the manufacturing of cork stoppers can be used to make innovative products with high scientific and technical value, such as absorbents, automotive parts or for railway and aircraft projects. Even used cork stoppers can be recycled and reused to manufacture footwear, sport equipment or fashion and design items. Even the smallest particles of cork dust can become fuel for cogeneration.
Mission: To Innovate Avant-Garde Industry
The cork industry has made modernization and quality its pillars. It invests in R&D and uses the most advanced technologies in the different manufacturing stages and processes. It implements rigorous quality systems. All products undergo thorough laboratory tests. It enhances workforce development. The cork industry sets the standard as a modern, forward thinking industry both in Portugal and abroad. Portugal has been a pioneer in environmental legislation for the protection of the Cork oak forest and is currently the leading legislator in this matter.
From Construction To Design
In civil engineering, its thermal, acoustic and vibration insulation capacity is exploited in building walls and floors. From floor to roof, in walls and windows, cork provides comfort, is no-allergenic and durable. Its benefits extend to improved energy efficiency in an increasingly environmentally friendly society. Owing to its unique properties, cork is also used in lightweight concrete and expansion joints for roads, bridges, railways, dams and airports.
Eco-Design and Cork
Low environmental impact, energy efficiency, quality, durability and reuseability. It is the realm of eco-design, an increasingly widespread and innovative futuristic trend, where cork is distinguished by its unlimited potential.
Using cork generates energy. Cork dust is used in the co-generation of electricity, contributing to improved energy efficiency, which in some companies can reach 60%. The lightness and acoustic insulation capacity of cork are also exploited for wind power by being incorporated in the turbine blades. Cork is also used in absorbents to control oil, hydrocarbon or organic solvent spills in industrial, aquatic and road environments.
When in contact with wine, the cork stopper forms antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic compounds that may reduce the risk of heart and degenerative disease. Invisible, it can be present in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products through hydro-acids generated by the chemical reaction of some constituents of cork. Imperceptible, it is used in compounds made from by-products of the cork industry, which are incorporated in vaccine adjuvant to enhance immune system response.