Hardwood or Softwood: What’s the Difference?

Of the many forest products used by consumers every day, wood in the form of lumber is the most recognizable. The lumber that we use to build homes or make furniture is produced from softwood or hardwood trees.

The differences between the two types of trees seem obvious from their names, but the actual differences are much more compelling. Interestingly, one basic fact is that “hard” wood and “soft” wood is really based on the botanical properties of a tree rather than the objective hardness of the wood.

Both hardwood and softwood are integral to global industry and infrastructure.

What is a Hardwood Tree?

Angiosperm trees produce what we know as hardwood. Angiosperms are flowering trees with enclosed seeds. The enclosure is often a fruit or nut.

They are usually deciduous, dropping their leaves in the autumn, sometimes with a vibrant display of color. Hardwood trees have broad leaves with fine veins.

Angiosperms grow slowly, which makes their wood dense and heavy. They have a tubular cell structure with pores that produce prominent grain patterns. They are found in tropical and temperate forests all over the world.

Common angiosperm hardwood trees include oak, maple, and walnut.

What is a Softwood Tree?

Softwood comes from gymnosperm trees, which, unlike angiosperms, do not flower. Softwood trees are usually conifers like pine, cedar, and spruce. Their seeds are not enclosed and they’re often in the form of a cone.

Because gymnosperm seeds do not have a fruit or nut enclosure, they spread more easily and in a wider area than angiosperms. Softwood trees also grow faster, have a simpler cell structure, and produce sap.

Gymnosperm leaves are needle-shaped and do not drop seasonally. They’re commonly called evergreen trees. Approximately 80% of timber comes from these softwood trees. The most common group of softwood trees, conifers, is also those most valued for its lumber. Conifers grow all over the world but are especially abundant in cooler climates and higher altitudes.

Do Hardwood and Softwood Trees Store Carbon?

Yes. Through the process of photosynthesis, hardwood trees and softwood trees both remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, light, and water transform into sugars including glucose, starch, and cellulose.

This is a form of carbon sequestration, in which carbon is captured from the atmosphere. Trees are natural carbon cleaners. The carbon they store helps offset carbon emissions from other sources.

Carbon is used and stored in every part of a tree, from leaf to root. Starch is found in flowers, fruits, and cones. Glucose aids in respiration, keeping the tree alive. Cellulose, which makes up 40% of wood, supports cell walls. Without cellulose, trees would be unable to stand upright.

An astonishing 50% of the dry mass of a tree is made up of carbon captured from the atmosphere. Harvesting trees and using them for lumber or paper does not release the carbon they’ve stored. Only burning or decay will send it back into the atmosphere.

Though softwood and hardwood trees absorb carbon differently (primarily due to growth rate) they are equally efficient.

What is Made From Hardwood Lumber?

Hardwood lumber is more expensive than softwood because it takes longer for the trees to reach a suitable size for harvest. Hardwood is used for furniture, flooring, cabinets, and musical instruments.

Though hardwood in general is denser and stronger, that is not the case for every species. For example, yew (a softwood) is significantly denser than aspen (a hardwood).

If a project is more decorative than functional, a softer hardwood may be used for its grain pattern rather than a denser softwood that would be more durable.

Hardwood is more difficult to work with than softwood. It is valued by woodworkers for its beauty and strength.

What is Made From Softwood Lumber?

Softwood is the workhorse of the lumber world. It is less expensive and easier to work with and finish. It is used for everything from framing houses to making paper. It’s also used for every single thing hardwood is used for, even instruments.

Softwood is used for Christmas trees, window frames, wood pallets, doors, and plywood. Cedar is used for outdoor decking and siding due to its natural resistance to fungi, insect, rot, and bacteria. Its popularity makes cedar’s price rival that of many slower-growing hardwoods.

Softwood is versatile, renewable, recyclable, and ubiquitous. We’re surrounded by it every day.

Wood is a Renewable and Recyclable Resource

Both hardwood and softwood are incredible, versatile resources. Lumber and other forest products are used in the daily lives of people across the globe.

Wood is one of our most recycled and reused products. Wood furniture is passed down through generations, recycled lumber is used for other projects, and wood pallets are transformed into décor or other items after being reused many times.

Modern logging practices create sustainable, healthy forests. The days of clear-cutting entire old-growth forests are long gone. Today, replanting, selective harvesting, and fire prevention are creating strong, productive forests that benefit both the environment and the economy.

The forest products industry is efficient and dedicated to the health of every aspect of the woodland. From wildlife habitat to soil conservation, forest management strives to keep these amazing resources sustainable for future generations. Private forests currently grow more trees than are harvested.

A harvested tree is used for more than lumber. Every piece of the tree has a use. Small branches, bark, and sawdust can be used as biomass for energy production. This material would otherwise be left to decay, burned on site, or sent to the landfill. In every one of those scenarios, the carbon is released without benefit.

When used as fuel, this material becomes part of the energy grid, reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It is carbon-neutral, releasing no more carbon than had it been left to decay.

The demand for forest products including lumber, paper, wood packaging, and biomass has steadily increased for decades. Rather than harming our forests, responsible woodland management resulted in a 50% increase in trees in the United States since the 1950s.

Responsible management of hardwood trees and softwood trees across the country has made the forest products industry a model of economically beneficial sustainability.

Wood On The Web: 5 Great Resources for You

The world wide web has delivered easily accessible resources for nearly every industry. What was once available only in classrooms, libraries, or laboratories can now be found with the click of a mouse.

Online forestry and forest products data and information is available for readers to learn about progress in forestry, research, forest products, environmental advocacy, and economic advancement.

At Nature’s Packaging, we strive to bring you interesting and useful resources on the web and here are five great forestry and forest products website resources for you. There’s something here for everyone from the curious consumer to the industry professional.

The Penn State Extension-Wood Products

The Penn State Extension offers a variety of online learning resources, including courses, articles, videos, and webinars. It also features in-person conferences and workshops.

The extension has 11 overarching areas of study, including food safety, business and operations, community development, animals and livestock, and forests and wildlife. It’s in this last section where students and learners of all ages will find a treasure trove of forest products information.

From urban forestry to maple syrup, this site covers a lot of ground. The Wood Products section is filled with information ranging from the basics of lumber to research on insects.

The Penn Extension site has something for everyone interested in wood products. From builders to landowners, students to casual enthusiasts, and newbies to experienced members of the forest products industry.

The site is easy to navigate, with efficient and effective content filters. You can browse by educational format, author or instructor, or date posted. This is a terrific general knowledge site that promotes an understanding of the many layers of the wood products industry.

International Society of Wood Science and Technology

The International Society of Wood Science and Technology is a non-profit, international professional organization. Members have access to conventions, international meetings, scientific missions, publications, and more.

Their website offers teaching units and other educational materials, accreditation information for Wood Science and Technology Programs, and access to recent issues of their publications.

Members have access to the full archives. They offer reduced-price student memberships as well as regular memberships. One of the greatest things about this organization, and its website, is the Short Term Scientific Mission.

Members are eligible to apply for these special research grants. They are used to send individuals into the world to collaborate and research away from their home base.

What’s special about the website is that anyone can see previous projects completed with STSM grants. Articles and videos discuss project goals and outcomes achieved during the visiting researcher’s stay.

Think Wood

Builders, contractors, and architects are the audience for the Think Wood website. This is a beautiful site that will appeal to the design eye of these professionals. Think Wood partners with industry groups to provide education and inspiration around advances in wood products.

The site offers articles, videos, and infographics without cost. They aim to provide the resources their audience needs to benefit from building with wood.

Topics range from forest management and carbon sequestration to meeting building and fire safety codes. They even offer continuing education courses.

While it’s designed for building professionals, this site is very accessible. It has a lot of information about sustainable forestry and proactive steps to reduce the carbon footprints of all sorts of projects. It’s also a great place to learn the basics of mass timber.

Think Wood excels at the visual. The site has incredible pictures of wood projects in all stages of completion. Their project gallery is filled with stunning photos accompanied by a lot of great information.

Inspiration is where Think Wood excels.

ForestProud

ForestProud is all about climate solutions. The Society of American Foresters recently merged with the #forestproud project to create a community that supports and promotes climate action in our forests.

The site is full of articles that link forest management with real-world positive outcomes. They talk about mass timber and urban renewal. They discuss biomass, wildfires, and carbon credits.

All of this information could be overwhelming. But it’s well-organized and helps visitors focus on connecting with forests as a climate solution.

This is a “finger on the pulse” website. It encourages community members to send in selfies wearing their branded t-shirts or with their stickers.

It links visitors to videos about sustainable forests and forest resources. It offers articles to educate. It even gives suggestions for relevant podcasts. This group has a social media presence and knows how to use it to further its cause.

ForestProud is a very accessible website. It’s welcoming and warm. Visitors can browse and learn, or they can choose to interact. It’s a well-conceived initiative to promote forest management and climate action.

National Wooden Pallet and Container Association

The National Wooden Pallet and Container Association is a professional non-profit association that supports the wood packaging industry. Its website is filled with information for both professionals and curious web surfers alike.

As industry advocates, the association offers networking, educational opportunities, and specialized software tools for pallet design. Members can register for events and find the latest industry news.

They also use their website to serve as the voice of the unsung hero of the supply chain: the wood pallet. Both members and non-members can access issues of the organization’s Pallet Central magazine right on the site.

The NWPCA site is designed for industry professionals. But there is a lot of information about sustainability for the general public as well.

Favorite Web Resources

These five websites are an excellent place to start for anyone interested in forestry and forest products. The key is to build a network of websites that adds and advances your knowledge of the industry.

Do you have a favorite wood related website to share? Join us on our LinkedIn page and comment on the websites in the forestry and forest products niche that you like.

 

Made From Trees-Forest Products Move Markets

Every day, many of the items used in daily life were made possible by forest products industries. The type of forest products in demand the most are various types of lumber. Used to make everything from furniture to home construction to wood pallets and containers; lumber is vital to many industries.

The transportation and logistics industries use wood pallets to move nearly everything. 1.8 billion pallets are in use every day, shipping 90% of the world’s goods. 90% of those pallets are made of wood, making them some of the most important forest product-derived items in the world.

Forest Products and Processes Add Sustainability

Forest products play a major role in the supply chain. Within the subject of climate change and the impact to the environment, the supply chain is under pressure to increase sustainability and reduce carbon emissions. The forest products industry is at the forefront of harvesting and creating renewable resources and products that are reusable and recyclable.

As part of that process, modern logging practices are incorporating sustainable principles to help forests remain healthy and productive. Well-managed forests generate some of the most valuable resources for mitigating climate change and provide useful products that positively impact daily life.

Wood Packaging Logistics and the Supply Chain

Wood packaging used in the supply chain includes pallets, boxes, crates used to transport goods. Well-designed wood packaging keeps goods from being damaged during transit. When heat treated and stamp-certified according to international standards like ISPM-15, wood packaging ensures that goods move seamlessly between countries and facilitates international trade.

Wood Pallets in the Supply Chain

Wood pallets are a core component of the supply chain. Their functionality makes them easy to load and unload via forklifts and pallet jacks. Their durability helps protect items shipped and their design makes them easy to store for reuse.

Wood pallets set the standard for supply chain strength, resilience, and sustainability. 95% of wood pallets are recycled and reused multiple times throughout their lifecycle. Pallets, as a crucial link in the supply chain, are leading the way toward a circular supply chain that eliminates waste.

They are also increasingly popular with consumers for DIY projects as the public recognizes their versatility. When they do reach the end of their useful lifespan, wood pallets are often down-cycled into other useful products like mulch, wood pellet fuel or craft wood.

A current challenge for wood pallets in the supply chain is availability. A consistent supply of quality pallets has always been in demand. When the pandemic hit, so did a broad increase in products shipped via e-commerce. As shipping has rebounded from those initial lock-downs, demand for pallets has exceeded supply.

At the same time, delays in other parts of the supply chain were causing the price of lumber to increase. Industries that use pallets to ship products began to appreciate the wood pallet as a principal component of a stable supply chain.

Forest Products-Above and Beyond

A relatively new arrival in the world of sustainable forest products is mass timber. Mass timber is an engineered product made up of multiple pieces and layers of wood sandwiched together. The result is an incredibly strong and resilient building material that is used in the construction of large buildings that were once built with steel or concrete alone. Mass timber technology is being used to build in Canada and Europe, and is now beginning to launch significantly in U.S. building construction.

Wood Fuel Powering Industry

Burning wood for fuel is nothing new. But the processes used for this age-old forest product are changing. Rather than using traditional firewood for heat in homes, people are turning to pellet stoves.

The pellets used in these stoves are commonly made from compressing wood byproducts that would otherwise go to waste. Wood pellets contain very little water, making them light and easy to handle and transport. They burn hot and clean and are considered to be carbon neutral.

The same pellets can be used to produce steam and electricity.

Biomass consisting of wood and plant products is finding a place as a clean energy option. It can be burned directly or processed into gas or liquid fuels. While not as clean as solar or wind energy, it is vastly cleaner than fossil fuel use and is renewable.

Residential buildings and industries are turning to biomass and other renewable sources for their energy needs.

Forest products surround us in our everyday lives. Renewable forestry practices have created an industry that leads the way in a world rightly focused on sustainability and net zero carbon emissions.

Nature’s Packaging-Let’s Learn About Sawmills

Sawmills remain one of the most important tools for the creation of wood planks, taking raw timber materials and turning them into usable wood. The sawmill’s basic operation has not changed much since its creation. In this Nature’s Packaging post, we’ll learn how sawmills operate and their history.

What is a Sawmill?

In a modern mill facility, the raw timber can be debarked and bucked (cut to length) before entering the mill or those processes can be part of the intake process of the mill itself.

The next phase of the process is converting the logs into boards with the use of several motorized saws at various stages that start by cutting large timbers into several smaller rough sawn pieces. Those rough sawn pieces can then be “re-sawn”, which is when the wood is finished into boards of various thickness and lengths, and can also be planed for smoothness.

This is a quick general overview of processes and methods in a mill, there are many different specialty operations that can also take place in a sawmill and those will be covered in other Nature’s Packaging posts.

The History of the Sawmill

Prior to the use of sawmills, boards were cut manually using saws operated by men. The wood was rived and planed and then hewn.

Pitsaw operation

Typically, two men used a whipsaw or pitsaw to do this, one above and one person under it in a saw pit. The whipsaw, a long blade held on either side, was moved back and forth to cut the wood to just the right level.

There is evidence of mechanical sawmills that date back to the 3rd century AD.

Roman Hierapolis stone sawmill-3rd century AD

In the 11th century, the use of water-powered mills helped to ease the burden while producing more of the materials people needed as cities and towns grew. These water-powered systems were common in Spain, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Northern Africa. A few hundred years later, they were widely present throughout Europe.

Water wheel mill

In this version of a sawmill, a circular motion of the wheel helped to create the movement of the blade. Only the saw had power derived from the water, and the logs were typically still loaded by hand. A movable carriage eventually developed to speed this up.

In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution created significant change for the timber industry. A circular saw blade was invented during this time, with credit going to Samuel Miller via a British patent #1152 in 1777.

The use of steam power in sawmill operations a century later meant that sawmills could operate at a faster rate to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The scrap lumber from the mill was often used to maintain a boiler.

In the 20th century, electricity was introduced and revitalized the way sawmills worked again. By adding electrical power and more innovation through computer technology, sawmills can produce lumber at a very fast rate by maximizing the number of optimal cuts taken in a single log.

How Today’s Sawmills Work

The same basic methods are still used in sawmills today though today’s mills are far more massive in size and capable of producing a large amount of lumber very quickly. They are expensive to run as most are highly computerized to make use of as much material as possible while still working to be efficient.

The process works as follows:

  • Trees are selected for harvesting, the trees of felled, and they are bucked to length, meaning just the logs are taken to the mill to be used.
  • The branches are removed in a process called limiting. The logs are loaded onto a truck and driven to a railroad or other location nearby for transportation.
  • The logs are scaled and debarked as the first steps. Then, the logs are sorted by species, size, and the end use for them, such as chips, plywood, or lumber.
  • The logs are then sized down to be able to be placed into the sawmill based on the desired end goal.
  • The cants (or unfinished logs) will then be broken down further. The fitches, which are unfinished planks, are then edged to remove any irregularities.
  • The finished pieces are trimmed, dried to remove moisture, planed to smooth the surface of them, and then shipped to their destination.

The Rise of Portable Sawmills

Portable sawmill

Portable sawmills have existed for over 100 years, but they gained real popularity in the 1970’s. These portable sawmill operations helped meet the exploding need for lumber products in the construction and forest products industries.

Because these portable systems can process material that would otherwise be wasted or underutilized, they are a unique solution for today’s industry and able to help reduce carbon emissions by processing materials onsite.

Portable thin kerf bandsaw mills are relatively easy to operate and can produce high-quality finished lumber from just about any species of tree. Initially, many property owners purchased portal lumber mills so they could clear a stand of trees quickly. They found that lumber was a profitable business, which encouraged them to expand their operations.

Today, portable mills are effective at not just producing quality finished products, they are also reducing the environmental impact of lumber production. A portable sawmill can harvest smaller sections within a stand of trees, and they lower the need to transport logs to another facility for processing, thereby removing steps from the process.

Portable sawmills can be helpful in urban areas. Trees that pose a public safety risk to pedestrians or that normally wouldn’t be processed in an urban environment can be removed and made into boards and other usable materials.

Portable sawmills can help foster more forest stewardship through more precise forest management and lessening the environmental impact of harvesting activities.

U.S. Forest Products-Annual Market Review 2015-2021

The market for forest products in the U.S. is healthy, but for how long? Global macroeconomic pressures are inflicting inflationary pains on everything from wood pallets to essential household items, and the forest products business is no different. Since early 2020, the COVID pandemic’s lock down and public health and safety measures nearly ground the world’s economy to a standstill. Today, we’re still coming out of hibernation, so to speak, but there’s plenty of room for optimism too.

Forest products have weathered the pandemic and subsequent lock downs relatively well. That does not mean serious challenges remain, yet the overall outlook has a positive trajectory. With those considerations in mind, here’s a breakdown of the most critical takeaways from the latest report U.S. Forest Products Annual Market Review and Prospects, 2015-2021.

Purpose of the Annual Market Review

The annual market review aims to build a holistic analysis of the forest products industry, including a breakdown of each market segment, such as sawn softwood and sawn hardwood. The report also outlines the developments that are shaping forest product consumption. The booming housing market is a prime example, as demand for raw lumber and building supplies remains historically high.

There’s even a brief mention of how biomass energy dovetails with the federal government’s emphasis on sustainability and climate change. Altogether, each of these factors forms a comprehensive picture of the U.S. forest products industry. The author of the review, Delton Alderman, has included everything that may affect the business moving forward over the next five years or so.

Current State of the Forest Products Market

Interestingly, the report’s bottom line is this: The table end of the covid-19 pandemic is still influencing the U.S. economy at large, and the forest products market business is no different. Specifically, the review identifies the most significant contributors to the disruption as the waning global demand for wood products, geopolitical events, and the trade disputes that have been ongoing for several years.

But according to the report’s author, a healthy U.S. housing market should be a boon to the forest products industry as home prices continue to rise along with a lack of available homes for sale, including new home construction that simply can’t keep pace with consumer demand. That’s a high-level look at the report, so let’s drill down into little bits of information and data that go into the review.

Information and Data in Annual Market Review

The report’s author builds out the review by looking into information and stats that focus on forest products. The study delves into consumption, trade, prices, credit, production, and the aforementioned macroeconomic effects. The review categorizes each market segment. The downside is that the nomenclature used by the author may be different from the terminology you use internally within your company or industry. Additionally, there is also data on product prices, international trade, domestic markets, and policy initiatives.

When is the Annual Market Review released?

Published in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Products Annual Market Review and Prospects, 2021-2025 comes out every year. The overriding difference this year is the depth and significance of the disruptions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the report looks at the market in its entirety instead of focusing on a single sub-sector.

The time frame in question may differ from report to report as economic conditions dictate how far into the future industry leaders should look for near-term trends. This time, the report outlines what the industry may soon face from 2021 to 2025. It’s the minimum amount of time necessary for a proper statistical analysis that seeks to forecast trends in juxtaposition with past data. From that point onward, the review breaks down the statistics and greatest influences for each category of forest products.

Forest product categories in the report

According to the report’s definition of forest products, the U.S. market can be broken down into several categories:

  • Timber products production, trade, and consumption
  • Sawn softwood
  • Softwood log trade
  • Sawn hardwood
  • Hardwood log trade
  • Pulpwood
  • Furniture
  • Structural panels
  • Engineered wood products
  • Hardwood plywood
  • Particle board and medium density fiberboard
  • Hardboard
  • Insulation board
  • Fuelwood

Additionally, the author explains the impact of economic conditions on each market segment. By taking this approach, the report can give a 360-degree view of the forest products industry and where it may turn in the future. Business leaders need an accurate portrayal of the industry to make investments and plan for successes – or further economic disruption due to factors beyond their control (i.e., rising inflation).

Currently, we are still in the nascent stages of a recovery from COVID-19, which most likely will affect the industry’s trajectory over the near term. And countries are facing headwinds from the invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent recessionary environment.

Some segments will feel the impact more than others. The purpose of the review is to provide a starting range on how these forces will affect those markets. Without these insights, industry-leading companies would have a much harder time getting a snapshot of the market and whether or not the exacerbating factors are beyond their control.

Take some time to review the report, which can be found at the link above, and see how the economic conditions may factor into your strategic decision making.

 

Wood biomass

Woody Biomass: A Nature’s Packaging Study – Part 2

***Nature’s Packaging continues this week with Woody Biomass – Part 2***

 

How Does Woody Biomass Produce Energy?

Woody biomass produces energy through several methods:

Combustion

Combustion of biomass is one of the oldest controllable energy resources. Combustion involves burning wood to produce heat.

It is a chemical reaction during which oxygen and biomass combine under high temperatures to produce water vapor, carbon dioxide, and heat.

Combustion is a widely used process to generate electricity that is an efficient, economical, and practical energy source.

Gasification

Gasification involves converting woody biomass into a fuel gas. The combustible gas can then facilitate powering engines. The process of gasification uses a low amount of oxygen and when utilized to convert solid carbonaceous materials, it can also produce hydrogen-rich gas.

Pyrolysis

Pyrolysis is a promising way of generating energy from waste. During pyrolysis, wood is heated without oxygen to produce a liquid or solid fuel.

Biomass pyrolysis involves breaking down organic matter into simpler molecular chains using heat. This process produces not only energy but also fuels and other chemicals.  The fuels created using the fast pyrolysis process have the potential to help reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 51% to 96%.

Heating biomass breaks it down into cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. These components can be used to produce energy through combustion or other means.

Other Products from Woody Biomass

Woody biomass is a versatile resource that can be utilized to create many different types of products, the following are just a few:

Biochar

We have covered biochar in a previous Nature’s Packaging blog post. Biochar is a form of carbon generated from biomass sources like wood chips, plant residues, and other agricultural waste products. It is created to convert biomass carbon product into a more stable form, otherwise known as carbon sequestration.

Biochar isn’t actually a single product. Instead, biochar is many different forms of black carbon that are unique in chemical and physical composition due to the original feedstock materials, creation process, cooling methods, and overall storage conditions.

Wood Vinegar

Wood vinegar is a liquid byproduct derived from the production of charcoal. It is a liquid generated from the combustion and gas of fresh wood burning in airless conditions. When the gas is cooled, it condenses and the remaining liquid is a vinegar product. Raw wood vinegar contains more than 200 chemicals

Wood vinegar is used to improve soil quality, eliminate pests, and control plant growth. It accelerates the growth of roots, stems, tubers, leaves, flowers, and fruit, but can be very toxic to plants if too much is used in application. Wood vinegar is safe for living matter and organisms in the food chain, especially to insects that help pollinate plants.

Wood-based Polymers and Composites

Recycling wood from end of life utility in packaging, construction debris, and demolition waste then combining those materials with plastics to form wood-polymer composites (WPC) creates strong wood-based products that have very wide usage capabilities. These recycled composites have very low environmental impact in terms of global warming potential (GWP), and greenhouse potential. The versatility of wood-polymer composites allow products to be created that have pre-determined strength values that correspond to their many applications.

Chemical Source Materials

In the past, it was something of a challenge turning woody biomass into fuels or other primary products. The lignin present was difficult to extract. Now through thermodynamic breakdown and chemical science, the lignin can be extracted and is quite good as a bio-polymer additive to adhesive formulas and also can be further processed into binding agents, dispersing agents, and emulsion stabilizers. Meaning that its versatility in multi-functional chemical applications makes it an excellent application in chemical manufacturing processes.

Woody Biomass in the Future

Technological advancements in the forest product sciences are finding more functional uses for woody biomass every year. Starting as a sustainable resource and source of energy that can be replenished over time, it is an environmentally friendly catalyst that is now finding new applications in materials science.

As the need for energy sources grows, woody biomass is complementary to other natural energy sources like wind and solar and ensures energy security for manufacturing and production-based industries. Thus, commercial companies are exploring many different types of bioenergy solutions.

Developing the technology to enhance the economic viability of woody biomass ensures a sustainable future for energy production. Its renewable, carbon-neutral, and lower environmental impact is an ideal attribute for future needs.

 

Forest Products Marketing Unit

Marketing Forest Products

For over 100 years, the Forest Products Laboratory has been at the forefront of optimized forestry. Their research, which started with the preservation of railroad ties, now spans hundreds of areas.

They develop technologies for wood products to maximize their economic potential. Their research is also key to combating deforestation and climate change while making the most of every harvested tree.

The Forest Products Laboratory does not exist in a vacuum. Its research is meant to be shared and used throughout the industry. Wise and efficient use of forest products results in healthy, sustainable forests and widespread economic opportunity.

Purpose

So why do they need a marketing unit? Marketing for FPL isn’t about advertising or image management. The U.S. Forest Products Marketing Unit (FPMU) is about establishing relationships with public and private entities.

These partnerships allow the research done at the FPL to benefit the forest products industry, the public, and the environment.

Organizing the distribution of information, innovation, and technology to the vast and complex forestry and forest products industries is no small task. But without these efforts, the FPL’s exhaustive research would be widely under-used and its technologies would go largely un-implemented.

The FPMU helps share and assist in the use of beneficial forest product practices across the country. With the help of federal funding, they pursue initiatives to promote smarter, better forest products, and processes.

History

Begun in 1992 and expanded in 1996, a formal relationship was established between the FPL and the forestry industry. To transfer research and technology from the lab to the outside world, the new joint Technology Marketing Unit had an ambitious goal. They would create a national framework that balanced the environmental and economic use of the nation’s forests.

That meant establishing strong cooperative partnerships with state and private industry leaders. The research and development being done at the FPL needed an organized way to reach the entities it could most benefit.

The new unit reached out to other technology marketers and diverse public and private forestry organizations to create a team. This team was dedicated to planning projects, identifying customer needs, and implementing technology to meet those needs.

When the 1996 agreement was written, a primary goal was to administer woody biomass grants. The focus of this program was using wood for energy.

In the years since its formal founding, the FPMU has expanded in scope. Their cooperative projects now include initiatives from nanotechnology to the reduction of the size and rate of forest fires.

Objectives

The FPMU has a set of objectives that cover a lot of ground. They focus on new and existing partnerships, coordination of services, and bringing the experts at the FPL to outside institutions.

For the FPL to have the greatest impact, it needs a strong core of cooperation among a large number of external entities. The FPMU establishes, grows, and maintains that vital core to extend the reach of the FPL.

The overarching objective of the Forest Products Marketing Unit is to provide coordination and assistance on a national level. This collaborative commitment is designed to maximize the economic and environmental use of FPL research and technologies.

Current objectives include incentives for increased use of biomass, accelerating reforestation, market creation, technical assistance, administration of grant programs, and more.

Managing resources nationally is a complex task. Focusing on innovative marketing and technological advances, the FPMU extends opportunities for forest product use and management across urban and rural landscapes.

Governance

The governance of the Forest Product Marketing Unit is a little bit complicated. The national scope and coordination with other entities make program direction and oversight key to its success.

Here’s a top-down look at the basic governing structure:

  • The Forest Products Laboratory Director serves as the overall program director. They provide direction for the FPMU to achieve its yearly goals.
  • Forest Service Deputy Chiefs provide broad oversight of the FPMU. They are also tasked with the important job of approving major planning elements for the FPMU. These elements include the Implementation Plan, the yearly Plan of Work, and the yearly operating budget.
  • FPMU staff includes a program manager, forest products technologist, natural resource specialist, research forest product technologist, research forester, partnership coordinator, IT specialist, and program support. This group is tasked with the day-to-day implementation of projects and programs.

This small but mighty team allows the FPL to work at a national level to guide both efficient economic use of all forest products and conserve and promote healthy forests.

The 5 Types of Innovative Forest Products – Part 2

Welcome back NP readers! In the first part of our Innovative Forest Product series, we investigated these leading edge technologies in forest product science:

  1. Advanced Composites and how forest products technology like tree fiber and wood waste are being used in processes like furniture construction.
  2. Advanced Structures and how wood products are being used in architecture to lower a buildings carbon footprint and create beautiful design.
  3. Forest Biorefinery and how the biological processes associated with wood can be utilized to create fuels like ethanol and other fermented substances.

Now let’s explore more innovative forest product technologies.

Wood Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology represents a cutting-edge field within the multi-disciplinary spheres of science and technology. Broadly speaking, it refers to the analysis and engineering of matter at the molecular and atomic scales. To put the practice into perspective, a nanometer is equivalent to one billionth of a meter.

How does nanotechnology relate to forestry and wood products? Well, scientists are currently researching and developing wood-related materials and systems that comprise different chemical, physical, and biological properties than materials found on a bigger scale. Researchers at FPL, for example, are conducting studies at the nano-scale to explore concepts like porosity in wood, which is the void space between cellular walls, and how to utilize it to create magnetic properties or electrical conductivity.

Our increasing ability to explore and manipulate materials at such as small scale is exciting for researchers in the engineering and technology sectors. Wood nanomaterials could be added to everything from cement to cloth products to increase their durability and sustainability. In some cases, they could even be used to produce heat-resistant materials. Nanocellulose holds promising potential as an inexpensive substitute for non-renewable petroleum-based materials across virtually all manufacturing sectors.

Woody Biomass Utilization

The western United States has experienced a growing number of intense wildfires in recent years. Part of the reason for this increase relates to the fact that these forest areas contain significant amounts of small-diameter timber and overgrowth that prefers shaded conditions vs sunlight. These overgrowth forests are prone to infestations, disease, and increased risk of wildfires developing through both man-made and natural means.

Is there a solution to this dangerous problem? Much of the forestland in the US is privately owned and management is the responsibility of the landowner. As such, some land is managed through proper silviculture and management techniques. Other forestland is left to grow wild because the management process can be costly and labor intensive.

The FPL has been researching the best ways to use the by-products of this type of forestland and woody biomass utilization may offer a viable sustainable alternative. The FPL is researching how to help small and rural communities utilize the potential of woody biomass to power building heating systems and incorporate the use of small-diameter wood in large structures such as sheds, bridges, trail paths, picnic shelters, and other architecture. The goal being to help these communities find a sustainable and economically viable method to manage forestland.

The bottom line: innovative forest products are changing the world

There are numerous ways for industries and communities to utilize innovative forest and wood by-products. In future, forest product innovations will include even more sustainable processes with the goal of helping companies and communities to become more ecologically aware and have a more positive effect on climate change.

The 5 Types of Innovative Forest Products – Part 1

America’s treasured forests are brimming with resources that help society thrive. As well as offering locals and vacationers a place to hike and unwind, wooded areas provide access to goods, including construction materials, paper, packaging, and lumber for homes and commercial buildings. In some cases, forest products can even be used in medical and dietary supplements, and as fuel for vehicles. Put simply, contemporary lifestyles are infused with forests and their many resources.

Of course, efficient use of forest resources requires us to pay careful attention to issues surrounding sustainability and conservation. The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) – based in Madison, Wisconsin – is one of several research facilities promoting responsible practices in the forestry industry.

In conjunction with other government agencies and public and private companies, the FPL explores how we can continue producing essential forest products while protecting against wildfires, invasive species, and other issues related to climate change.

In this article, we’ll explore what kinds of products the FPL is currently investigating and how they’re pioneering a science-first approach to forestry. The US Forest Product Labs key areas of research include:

Advanced Composites

Wood composites are materials manufactured using many different forest materials such as tree fibers, wood flakes, wood waste, and natural bio-fibers like corn straw and poultry feathers. Wood composites can help reduce the production of waste materials and enhance the economic efficiency of forest reconstruction projects.

The FPL continues to find new ways of producing composite materials, many of which are utilized in home furnishings and major construction projects. More specifically, advanced composites are often used in interior paneling and the support structures used to erect new buildings. As well as helping to protect forests and reduce waste, composite wood is light, durable, inexpensive, and easy to work with. In future, the FPL hopes to design composites offering even better durability and serviceability.

Advanced Structures

Advanced structures are wood products commonly used in residential homes, commercial buildings, and transport infrastructure. Typically, these products offer strength, cutting-edge design, moisture control, and a range of coatings and finishes.

Lumber has been used as a vital construction material for millennia thanks to its durability and affordability. Excitingly, advanced wood structures can even help tackle climate change thanks to their ability to store carbon and be recylced. As such, wood carries a lower environmental footprint than steel and concrete. Given the clear benefits of lumber, the FPL continues to research ways of boosting its efficiency and sustainability.

Forest Bio-refinery

Wooded areas represent some of the world’s richest sources of biological chemicals and fuels. What’s more, they don’t require pesticides or fertilizer like other sources of biological by-products such as corn and rice. As such, the FPL is committed to researching how to enhance bio-refinery technologies to produce valuable chemicals and fuels for transportation.

Currently, biological products are produced by hydrolyzing wood into sugars. These sugars are then fermented to create ethanol or other fermented substances. The FPL is researching new ways to modify yeast DNA to boost the level of ethanol produced during this process.

In many ways, this research couldn’t come at a better time. As wooded land fills up with overcrowded trees and wooded waste, we’re presented with new opportunities to clean up the forest and satisfy an ever-growing need for alternative fuels. However, harvesting biomass for the production of chemicals and fuels is costly and time-consuming. As such, we must find more cost-effective ways to remove biomass from forests.

Join Nature’s Packaging next week as we reveal the last two forest product innovation types.

Carbon Sequestration

What is Carbon Sequestration?

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing carbon and storing it in a way that won’t contribute to climate change.

If you’re familiar with the concept of a carbon footprint, then you are off to a great start. A carbon footprint measures how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are due to activities like driving a vehicle or using electricity to run facilities and machinery.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere and contribute to global warming. They’re “greenhouse gases” because they work like the glass of a greenhouse: they let sunlight in but don’t allow the heat that is generated to escape back outside the atmosphere of the Earth into space. The result is that global temperatures rise, and weather patterns become more severe and less predictable.

Carbon dioxide and methane are two common greenhouse gases  that are produced by activities like burning fossil fuels or managing livestock.

But nature has developed an excellent resource to help pull carbon out of the environment.

The wonderful tree.

As trees mature, they absorb sunlight through photosynthesis and store carbon in the form of carbohydrates, which are used by the tree for growth. This carbon capture process occurs within all plants to convert sunlight into chemical energy. Trees are especially good at it because they typically have an extensive root and leaf structure.

If the tree is harvested to become a forest product like lumber, it retains that carbon—meaning that wood products act as “sinks” for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other words, using wood helps remove carbon from the atmosphere—which can help mitigate climate change.

Wood:  A Carbon Storage Powerhouse

A tree’s roots, trunk, branches, leaves, and sap all contain carbon, and while they’re growing, they take up even more carbon dioxide.

The amount of carbon stored in any particular tree varies with its size and age, the type of wood it produces (hardwood or softwood), and how dense the wood is. You can determine the density by measuring how much space an oven-dry wood sample occupies.

The ability to store carbon in plant biomass, such as trees, makes possible the creation of a sustainable energy source.

The process of carbon sequestration involves three main steps:

  1. Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere
  2. Transporting it to underground storage.
  3. Storing the captured CO2

The quantity of carbon sequestered will depend on various factors, including climate, geography, and land management practices.

For centuries, humanity has relied on forests and wood for a multitude of products. Today, industries harvest and utilize trees for everything from construction materials to cosmetics.

However, it turns out that forest products are capable of continuing their carbon sequestration process. Instead of releasing carbon back into the atmosphere through decomposition, wood products can store carbon within their cellular structure, keeping it out of the atmosphere. It means wood products are a great source of renewable energy!

As a renewable resource, wood is a vital component of the circular economy. Wood products store carbon throughout their life cycle and can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Wood is very often one of the few materials that is produced and utilized within the same geographic region. It results in a low carbon footprint compared to many other materials (e.g., concrete, steel, plastic).

Reduce > Re-use > Recycle > Renew

Encouraging the use of wood products that sequester carbon is a small part of the larger positive impact on the environment and climate change. Another step to this equation is to Reduce-Reuse-Recycle whenever possible.

Wood is a renewable resource. Responsibly managed forests help in the fight against climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere on a global scale. And they do it at an astonishing rate. A single hardwood tree can absorb up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and one acre of forest can absorb twice as much CO2 as an acre of farmland.

When you purchase products like wood pallets to use in your supply chain, you support an industry that uses a renewable resource and recycles that resource millions of times a day, every day.

 

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