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The Forests of Gabon

Forest products play a crucial role in many countries and their available resources. In the African nation of Gabon, forest products are pointing the way forward in a country that finds itself winding down its oil production and needing to find alternate sources of investment and resources.

NP readers know that we at Nature’s Packaging support sustainably sourced wood from sustainably managed forests. Wood is a multifaceted medium that is utilized in everything from buildings (mass timber), to furniture, to the wooden pallet and crate.

The government of this small African nation understand that their forests are an opportunity to open new markets and create jobs for its citizens.

Join Nature’s Packaging as we take look how the country is working to balance its need for new revenue and to sustainably manage its abundant forest land.

The Eden of Africa

Known as the “Eden of Africa”, the nation of Gabon is rich with forestland (it covers about 90% of the country) and has one of the largest elephant herds in the world.  For decades though, it has relied on its oil production to fuel the economy. The oil producing sector has shielded the country’s economy from the larger fluctuations in Africa’s overall economic woes at various times in history.

However, as their calculated oil reserves begin to dwindle the government has turned to its forests to make the transition from oil as its main economic driver to a diversity of forest products. The challenge is to balance the need to extract these resources with the preservation of its precious forests and the climate change conditions happening around the world.

To maintain that balance, Gabonese officials have implemented strict rules regarding logging that keeps the majority trees standing and developing into old-growth timber. In fact, those strict rules limit logging to two trees per hectare every 25 years. Additionally, to combat illegal logging they have developed a program to track logs via bar code markings.

In the past, Gabon exported the majority of its raw timber product to other countries for them to finish. That has changed through government legislation that forbid selling the raw materials directly to other countries (France was a big customer). Now, the government is working to create industrial economic zones that provide tax breaks and other incentives to have businesses build factories and facilities that provide finished forest products right on their own. These include:

  • Furniture
  • Plywood products
  • Veneers from exotic tree species

To assess the interior forestland and track toward sustainable management of such a large area, Gabon officials built a satellite research station to track and create a database of the areas most degraded from industrial activity. This has led directly to a decline in illegal logging and deforestation overall. Some of the areas that were degraded previously were then re-purposed to more industrial agriculture services like palm oil.

This conservation and active sustainable management has led to a boom in the elephant population as well. In the 1990’s, the elephant population in Gabon numbered around 60,000. Now the population has grown to over 95,000. It is said that elephants are a sign of a thriving forest and certainly the elephants in Gabon are thriving.

Gabon and Forest Products

Gabon’s booming veneer business has made it the largest producer of exotic veneers in Africa. Their rich resource of exotic woods has made them a much sought after medium for crafting fine furniture and wood materials. And they are actively developing plywood manufacturing sectors through the grant of special economic zones that are located strategically close to resources and populations in need of employment.

The timber industry in Gabon is responsible for more than 30,000 jobs and this number is projected to increase as workers in the oil and gas sectors transition to forest based jobs. That 30,000 already represents about 7% of their total available workforce.

Gabon and Carbon

As the second largest reservoir of carbon sequestered through forestland (the Amazon is the largest), the burgeoning worldwide carbon credit market has created new opportunities for Gabon to utilize the natural carbon sequestration of its forest for profit in the CC market. It has sought and received carbon offset certifications from independent auditors.

Though this has not come without controversy as Gabonese officials chose to re-evaluate their credit calculation method and have since quadrupled their available carbon credits into the tens of millions of dollars. The concern is the market being flooded with these credits and thus driving down prices overall and the veracity of the credits themselves. Government officials have pointed to the initiative as a model for using new markets to fund the conservation of their forestland.

While Gabon’s story around forest products as a resource continues to play out over time. The model that they have provided to other African nations has prompted other to develop the same type of resources where available. However, the challenge becomes whether or not these other nations will adhere to principles of sustainable management of forestland and the need for economic opportunity. Time will tell.

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.

 

Sustainable Logging Practices

Sustainable Logging Practices

For some people, the words “sustainable” and “logging” simply do not go together. Historical logging practices were sometimes hard on forests and disrupted native ecosystems. Today, sustainable forestry practices that include logging and harvesting trees comfortably co-exists with the conservation of thriving forests.

Sustainable Logging:  The Beginning

Historical logging practices began with the axe, manual saw, and manpower. They were transformed by the introduction of powered machines. At first, as volumes of timber increased exponentially with these new capabilities, the harvesting practices remained tied to traditional practices for some time. The practice disrupted wildlife, native plant species, and the enjoyment of wild areas.

While clearcutting is still practiced today, it is more controlled and meant to optimize renewal growth.

As environmental and climate awareness began to rise, bitter confrontations with the logging industry became far too common.

In 1972, the U.S. embarked on a new path. With the passage of the Clean Water Act, environmental policies were written into law across the nation. Local, state, and federal regulations emphasized healthy forests and responsible management.

But logging couldn’t simply stop. The industry supplied, and continues to supply, much-needed timber and other forest products to consumers around the world. The harvesting of forest products provided the economic foundation for communities across the country.

Reconciling those competing needs resulted in the birth of sustainable logging practices. Old-style clear-cutting both destroyed forests and ended the economic viability of the land. Sustainable practices allow both to flourish.

Sustainable logging practices benefit everyone, from the employees of logging companies to the campers enjoying a weekend in the woods.

Sustainable forestry even has the potential to help mitigate climate change.

Sustainable Logging Overview

The main principle of sustainable logging is to balance the economic importance of forest products with the ecological importance of healthy forests. This requires a comprehensive strategy for every potential logging site.

One way to approach sustainability is to design harvesting to mirror the effects of nature. Forests are altered by wind, fire, flood, and other natural events. Trees die and are replaced in forests with no human intervention.

Sustainable forestry also depends on choosing harvesting sites wisely. Old growth forests that are not normally harvested commercially should be left alone, preserving ecosystems and habitats that have flourished in place.

For land with a history of logging, sustainable logging begins with foresters learning as much as possible about the natural patterns and existing conditions of each tract of trees.

Sustainable Logging Practices

No two tracts of land will be logged in exactly the same manner. Sustainable logging brings together a team of experts who compile a comprehensive analysis of the area. Biologists, geologists, ecologists, and more lend their expertise to each project.

Each project has its own profile. But similar sustainable logging practices are adapted for sites across the country and, increasingly, around the world.

Patchwork Logging

While a company used to clear-cut an entire forest, sustainable logging is far more targeted and precise.

Harvesting trees from a small area allows the surrounding forest to adapt to the clearing like it would to a natural event. Keeping harvested areas far enough apart maintains habitat and biodiversity.

Tree type and growth, soil conditions, and other factors determine how many trees can be harvested from an individual area. In places where fire or damaging storms are common, the overall environment may be able to regenerate a larger area.

Patchwork logging leaves trees within a harvested area to better mimic natural conditions. It also allows for the preservation of tree species that are endangered or play an oversized role in ecosystem balance.

Sustainable logging is done in cycles. Some models propose that a cycle be no shorter than 80 years. This allows the forest to recover and continuously produce harvestable trees.

Areas that have been harvested are planted with saplings. The emergence of wild grasses attracts wildlife to the clearing, and the ecosystem evolves and grows.

Selective Harvesting

Selective harvesting removes individual trees, thinning the forest to allow existing smaller trees more space and light to grow. This type of sustainable logging is especially beneficial in tropical areas that don’t have natural events that mimic areas of clear-cutting.

Selective harvesting preserves undergrowth. This helps prevent soil erosion and maintain the health of the larger ecosystem.

Both patchwork and selective sustainable logging use fewer and smaller roads and less equipment, reducing damage to the surrounding forest. Careful attention is paid to the protection of unharvested trees.

Other Benefits of Sustainable Logging

Sustainable logging offers additional environmental benefits. Harvested trees and areas are kept well away from waterways to minimize erosion and runoff. Sufficient space is left between harvested areas to provide an uninterrupted habitat for wildlife.

Sustainable logging also provides a safer working environment. Fewer people and less equipment in each area help reduce the chance of accidents.

Sustainable Logging:  Forest Management and Climate Change

Sustainable logging can play a major role in forest management. An unlogged forest is not necessarily a healthy forest. The work that goes into profiling a forest or tract of trees before harvesting provides valuable information.

That information includes soil, geography, and tree health analysis. Invasive species are documented, as are biodiversity, wildlife habitat and density, erosion, and any disease or damage present in the area.

Logging is sometimes the first step in returning a forest to good health. Removing diseased, damaged, or low-quality trees helps the higher quality trees grow. This is called an improvement harvest.

The branches and other wood left behind by this careful removal provides wildlife habitat while it decays and enriches the soil. Removing invasive trees, vines, and other plants provides better conditions for the remaining trees.

Sustainable logging practices are used and adapted by forest managers to improve the overall health of their woodlands, even if no trees are harvested for lumber.

Sustainable forestry is also becoming the focus of climate action. Sustainable logging can result in more trees as well as healthier trees able to capture more carbon.

Tropical forests are an area of particular interest for climate action. 1.5 million square miles of tropical forest are currently being selectively logged. Widespread adoption of selective harvesting practices would allow these forests to maintain much of their carbon stores and biodiversity while continuing to anchor economies.

Sustainable logging practices combine common sense, careful study, and new technologies to improve the health of forests around the world. At the same time, they provide economic stability for many communities and meet the continuing demand for lumber and other forest-based products.

 

Wood On the Web: Dovetail Partners

This month, Nature’s Packaging has found another great web-based resource for you that demonstrates the versatility in the forest industry and the opportunities it creates for employment, sustainability initiatives, economic knowledge, and government policy.

Our focus this month is on Dovetail Partners website (www.dovetailinc.org), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to collaboration, problem-solving, and job creation in industries related to forest resources and wood-based products.

The Dovetail Partners Mission

Dovetail Partners are all about collaboration. Their model is to work with individuals and organizations to create new and interesting ideas, systems, models, and programs that address the decisions and impacts regarding governmental and corporate policies, use of land, and consumption choices. They also work to build programs that encourage job creation and affect job quality in resource-based industries like forest management and forest products.

Dovetail Services

Dovetail provides a range of services to organizations that really help with everything from ideation of topics to project management to data collection:

  • Idea Development – develop ideas to reach desired outcomes.
  • Project Management – team, skills, and knowledge to keep projects on track.
  • Data Collection – seek the science available to address an issue and leverage expertise and network to fill the gaps.
  • Analysis – analysis of data and information to help present a clear picture of the outcome.
  • Report Development – organizing the ideas, data, and analysis into a document that effectively communicates the desired outcomes.
  • Outreach – deliver products meant to inspire, encouraging thoughtful work into the future.

Dovetail Projects

Dovetail Partners have completed a wide variety of reports across many different sectors of industry. All of these reports are available for download at their website https://www.dovetailinc.org/portfolio.php.

Some of the most relevant to the forest products industries include:

Global Forest Resources and Timber Trade

The report is an analysis of forest resources at global level, from both supply and demand perspectives (raw material supply, trade, processing/production, consumption). The report is global in scope but focuses on the United States primarily due to audience. It includes great breakdowns of the tropical and boreal timber markets with easy-to-understand graphics and data. It ends with market trends and how political policy worldwide is impacting trade and the markets.

An Introduction to the Circular Economy

This report defines the circular economy according to the UNECE definition (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe). It is a system of production and consumption, which minimizes waste, optimizes the resources used with minimal pollution, regenerates natural capital, creates opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship, and reshapes production and consumption from a life cycle and recycling perspective. The report gives examples of how it is being applied in the natural and forest resource industries sector and the opportunities created by its application.

Carbon Storage, Credit Markets, and Forests

This Dovetail report is centered on the carbon credits generated by operations in the forest resources industries, the markets that have been created and new ones developing, and how the market generally operates from source to asset. While the framework is global in nature, the report focuses on the United States in particular. It also does a great job of delineating the voluntary and regulatory markets and how they differ in scope and development.

Why Wood Pallets and Containers

Here at Nature’s Packaging, our goal is to keep you informed about the forces that will have a political and economic impact on our industry. These are subjects and topics that are being discussed, explored, and implemented by whole industries and large organizations that are customers of the wooden pallet and container industry. We must remain informed with credible, relevant data and information that allows us to remain “at the table” and even expand our capabilities to align with these initiatives. The Life Cycle Assessment is a great start, but we must do more or we will be replaced by better marketing.

Wood Moves the World – Wood Packaging in Outer Space

Have you ever looked up into the sky and wondered, “Pallets are cool and all, but do they use wood packaging in space”? You are not alone! In this Nature’s Packaging post, we’ll go where no wood package has gone before and discover how wood will soon be launched into space through a collaboration between Arctic Astronautics Ltd., UPM Plywood, European Space Agency, and Huld Design.

First, let’s take a quick look at other space-based projects where wood has played a role. Starting in the early 1970’s and into the 21st century, China experimented with white oak tiles as an ablative shield on their FSW series satellites. This proved effective as the white oak tiles would heat and turn to char which acted as a protective layer during re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere.

The WISA® Wood Cube Satellite (WoodSat for short) is a first of its kind nanosatellite that utilizes plywood as part of its structure. A nanosatellite typically weighs less than 22 lbs. and has a cube dimension of 10cmx10cmx10cm. They are designed for versatility and low cost. This gives researchers the ability to launch the satellite into space as part of a larger payload or into the atmosphere via high-altitude weather balloon.

“The mission of the satellite is to test the applicability of wooden materials, especially WISA-Birch plywood, in spacecraft structures and expose it to extreme space conditions, such as heat, cold, vacuum and radiation, for an extended period of time.”-UPM

The WISA® WoodSat is based on a Kitsat model available from Arctic Astronautics. The Kitsat is a fully functioning replica satellite designed for educational use and space hobbyists. You can buy a Kitsat with accessories and spare parts for ~$2,000 US dollars.

The WISA® plywood used for the real satellite is provided by UPM. UPM is a European company that focuses on providing recyclable products made from renewable resources. The plywood itself is a common birch base that was hand selected for this project, specially coated with an industrial UV lacquer, and dried in a thermal vacuum. All designed to protect the small satellite against UV radiation in space. Here’s a great video of the process.

The ESA or European Space Agency are interested in the project for testing the future use of wood in space-based platforms. They will provide the sensor suite and electronics that monitor the environmental conditions and integrity of WoodSat while deployed in space.

Huld (which is a combination of the words Humane and Bold) is a European technology design house that has been working in the space industry since the late 1980’s. For the WoodSat project, it is manufacturing the uniquely engineered deployable camera boom and the aluminum launch rails for the mission. Yes, the WoodSat will have a selfie stick for video and pictures.

WISA Wood Satellite

The mission has progressed on schedule and on Saturday June 12th 2021, the first test flight of WISA WoodSat took place. Attached to a weather balloon, it went to approximately 19 miles (30 km) above Earth’s surface and into the stratosphere. The flight lasted for 2 hours and 54 minutes. The balloon exploded at altitude as planned and the test WoodSat deployed a parachute and floated back to Earth. During the flight, tests of its communication capabilities, command response, and selfie stick camera all passed.

Since the test model launched and worked as planned during the flight, the preparations for actual space flight to happen in the final quarter of 2021 will continue according to schedule. The flight model of WISA® WoodSat satellite and its spare were completed by the end of June. The spare model has been put into a space simulator and subject to extensive tests for vibrations that simulate a rocket launch and trajectory.

Innovative designs that utilize wood are a part of why wood wins. The WISA® WoodSat project is further proof that wood is a truly versatile material and wood packaging can go anywhere, including outer space.

US Forest Service Badge

All Things Wood: USFS-Forest Products Laboratory

With a recycling rate at 95%, wood pallets and containers are an essential part of environmentally friendly initiatives to create a more sustainable supply chain. Much of the research in wood products as a renewable, sustainable resource is conducted by the forest products industry in conjunction with government entities. In this week’s post, Nature’s Packaging will explore one of those agencies with a deeper dive into the United States Forest Service-Forest Products Lab.

Origin

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) was created in 1909 under the direction of the 1st Chief of the Forest Service – Gifford Pinchot. He, along with McGarvey Cline and Overton Price, recognized the need for a facility to study, research, and test the physical properties of wood for commercial, industrial, and military uses.

McGarvey Cline is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of the lab and he led the initiative to align with a university. Cline realized that seeking a collaborative agreement with a university would benefit both the pathway for technical study and research of wood, and develop a steady stream of expertise for the forest products community. He also selected the first 45 scientists and personnel to staff the lab.

McGarvey Cline chose the University of Wisconsin at Madison as the official location of the first Forest Products Laboratory and was appointed its first official director. The official ceremony of dedication was conducted on June 4th, 1910 with an upgraded building and laboratory facility built in 1932.

Forest Products Lab

Vision & Mission

The current strategic plan of the Forest Products Lab was devised in 2010. It includes both the mission and vision statements of the FPL:

Mission – To identify and conduct innovative wood and fiber utilization research that contributes to conservation and productivity of the forest resource, thereby sustaining forests, the economy, and quality of life.

Vision – To be a world leader in innovative wood utilization research that significantly improves quality of life and national competitiveness while conserving wood and fiber.In reaching our vision, we will help create a future in which people throughout the world benefit from healthy forests and grasslands that provide round wood, solid sawn wood, composites, fiber, chemicals, energy, and other renewable materials in a sustainable manner.

Research Areas

The focus of the FPL is currently centered around 5 key areas of emphasis:

Advanced Composites – representing more than 40% of the total materials used in residential construction, the FPL works to create composite products from bio-based materials. Composites are especially useful because they can be created from fibers, particles, and flakes from smaller tree species and can also utilize post-industrial and post-consumer wood waste materials.

Advanced Structures – centered around creating innovative wood-based technologies for housing and buildings like engineered wood products, moisture control, performance coatings and finishes, adhesives, wood preservation and composites. Many of the materials used in modern wood frame house and building construction originate here.

Forest Bio-refinery – focused on the development of bio-based fuels and chemicals. This group of technologies utilize chemical, biochemical, and thermal methods to create fuels and chemicals from biomass. Secondarily, this area also works on how to efficiently and effectively remove the woody biomass that can choke forests and create extreme wildfire situations.

Nanotechnology – research in nanocellulose technology through the use of structural, chemical, and mechanical techniques. This section also launched the Nanocellulose Pilot Plant in 2012, which has become a premiere worldwide research facility for the science.

Woody Biomass Utilization – concentrating on the utilization of small diameter, overstocked and underutilized tree material that represent significant forest overgrowth. This area of emphasis has worked to identify other ways to use this material to create profitable by-products and businesses. Examples would include structural material for use in bridges, walkways, and buildings.   

FPL & Wood Pallets

The Pallet Foundation, in conjunction with the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, recently released an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD). This important document is made available to the public and provides transparent, factual, product specific environmental data and information which is independently verified through the UL Environment EPD program.

A key part of the EPD is the Life-Cycle Assessment which was a study conducted by the Forest Products Lab that evaluated the environmental impact of manufacturing and recycling wooden pallets. The study covered the cradle-to-grave life-cycle stages of the wooden pallet supply chain using an FPL life-cycle assessment methodology. This included:  sourcing of raw material, product manufacturing, transportation, and reuse, repair, and final disposal of pallets.

The overall conclusion is that recycling and proper end of lifecycle disposal practices with wooden pallets are carbon neutral. Because of the difficulty in tracking pallets through the supply chain, a key feature of the study was an assessment based on a single repair of a pallet. Typically, in real world situations, pallets are repaired multiple times over the life of the product. This would increase the positive environmental impact of wood pallets over their lifetime:

Wood pallets and their components are easy to repair. This study considered a single repair, which was conservative and thus probably overestimated the environmental impacts of a sectoral analysis as indicated by the repair and reuse stage [B2]. If more repairs were considered, less virgin wood material would be required in addition to extending the RSL, which would probably have a substantial positive environmental impact because of how much the wood material inputs affected the GHG profile.

The Future

Since 1910, The US Forest Service – Forest Products Lab has endeavored to provide meaningful facts, data, and science that utilizes wood as its primary resource. Going into the future, the FPL will work to address the critical challenges that affect our modern world. These challenges include:

Carbon Sequestration – forest products research to improve the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions

Sustainable Forestry – sustainable development of forests in the face of worldwide exponential population growth and deforestation

Alternative Energy Sources – ever increasing energy demands coupled with the need to develop new alternatives and create more efficient energy sources that will touch everything from transportation to housing

Urbanization – incorporating and improving forest conservation, maintenance, and growth in the face of increased urban development

Globalization – informing decisions from a local, national, global level by understanding the interconnectedness of all nations and people across the globe and how forests and trees play a key role as a resource

Technological Change – staying at the forefront of information dissemination and structuring accessibility to information utilizing modern communication technologies

Economic Forces – the status of both the US and global economy play a key role in determining how research and study is conducted and how the results are implemented to the benefit of all concerned

Political & Social Forces – All branches of the US government and the public itself will continue to have a profound impact and strong influence on the FPL as it continues to lead research and science in the areas of sustainability, renewable resources, environmental health, and industrial processes.

The Forest Products Lab will continue to uphold its mission, vision, and strategic plan into the 21st century and promote the healthy, sustainable growth of US forests. The lab will also continue to develop cutting edge technologies and science that further enhances the renewable resource of wood and traditional forest products.

Innovation in Wood – Cross Laminated Timber

cross laminated timber

The W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana is just one of an increasing number of institutions looking to cross-laminated timber (CLT) for new construction. UM recently requested money from the state legislature to help fund the building of its new $45 million CLT building, to be built from wood grown, harvested, and manufactured in that state.

“It just makes perfect sense for a forestry building and tells the story, and it is a much more sustainable and reasonable way to go,” Alan Townsend, the Franke College dean, told The Missoulian. “And it can look really cool. It’d be a pretty iconic building on campus.”

Based on its earlier adoption in Europe as a building material, interest in CLT structures continues to grow in North America and around the world. Buildings manufactured with CLT panels are faster to construct, more energy-efficient and made from renewable material. Let’s take a closer look.

What is Cross Laminated Timber (CLT)?

Cross-laminated timber (CLT), a sub-category of engineered wood, is created by gluing together several layers of kiln-dried lumber. Laid flat, they are glued together on their wide faces, with grain in alternating directions at 90 degrees.

Panels most frequently consist of three, five, seven or nine alternating layers. Layer thickness typically ranges from ⅝” to 2” and board width from 2.4” to 9.5”. It is similar to plywood, however with significantly thicker laminations or layers.  The layered stacks are glued and then pressed vertically as well as horizontally to create panels, which can then be accurately sized and finished for installation.

Typical panel widths are 2, 4, 8 or 10 feet, while panel length may extend to 60 feet. CLT is different than glued laminated timber (glulam) in which all laminations are oriented in the same direction.

What is the History of CLT?

Cross-laminated timber was first introduced in the early 1990s in Germany and Austria. Since that time, it has continued to gain popularity for residential and non-residential building construction in Europe.

After slow initial growth, its popularity began to increase in the early 2000’s thanks to the green building movement, as well as through newfound efficiencies, product approvals, and improved marketing and distribution.

CLT usage in buildings has increased significantly in the last decade. Hundreds of impressive buildings and other structures built around the world using CLT bring to life the substantial benefits made possible by CLT. The European projects demonstrate that CLT construction can be competitive, particularly in mid-rise and high-rise buildings.

What are the Advantages of CLT?

According to www.woodworks.org, the major benefits of CLT are listed as follows:

Design flexibility: CLT panel thickness can be easily increased to allow for longer spans, and custom cut as required with CNC equipment to exacting tolerances.

Thermal performance: CLT’s thermal performance is related to panel thickness. Thicker panels require less insulation, and because panels are solid, there is little potential for airflow through the panel system. As a result, interior temperatures can be maintained with as little as one-third the amount of energy otherwise required for cooling or heating.

Cost-effectiveness: Even without considering the added benefits of faster construction time (up to 25% less time and up to 50% less labor) and lower foundation costs, CLT compares favorably to certain concrete, masonry, and steel building alternatives. According to a 2010 study by FPInnovations, CLT was 15% lower for mid-rise residential, 15 to 50% cheaper for mid-rise non-residential and 25% cheaper for low-rise commercial structures.

Less waste: Because CLT panels are custom manufactured for particular building projects, they generate little or no job site waste generated. Additionally, fabrication scraps, if created, can be used for other architectural elements such as stairs, or as biofuel.

Environmental advantages: Aside from superior thermal performance that saves building operators money on their heating bill, CLT is also valued because its production has a lower environmental footprint than the manufacturing of other construction alternatives, including the production of less air and water pollution and the generation of less CO2. The environmental case for CLT is enhanced as it acts to sequester carbon.

Fire protection: The thick cross-section of CLT panels provides superior fire resistance because panels char slowly. Once charred, the panels are protected from further degradation.

Seismic performance: Thanks to its dimensional stability and rigidity, CLT performs well under seismic stresses. Extensive testing has determined that CLT panels hold up exceptionally well with no deformation, particularly in multi-story applications.

What is the Outlook for CLT?

While mass timber is considered a more sustainable building material than steel or concrete, its uptake until recently has been limited due to negative perceptions regarding its strength and cost as well as building code restrictions that have limited its use in mass-market building types.

However, as one recent report notes, as the price of mass timber products continues to fall and local jurisdictions improve their code approval processes, the wood material is anticipated to become a more viable everyday choice for building commercial office buildings.

According to The Economist, mass timber is expected to account for US$1.4bn of the US$14trn global construction industry by 2025 and 0.5% of new urban buildings by 2050. With concerted investment in global manufacturing capacity and building projects for mass timber, however, The Economist believes that the share of the construction market could rise exponentially by 2050, capturing trillions in value.

Resources:

Canada CLT Handbook, 2019 Edition

Solid Advantages

U.S. CLT Handbook

Transparent wood product

Windows to Wearables: Innovation in Wood Products

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2020/10/01/transparent-wood-could-be-window-future

While wood products have been used by humanity for millennia, researchers are recently finding new and exciting ways that the material can be used to promote sustainability. The forest products sector welcomes these exciting new opportunities for wood products, particularly for its woody residuals such as sawdust, bark, and chips. Woody residuals are generated from tree harvest tops and branches, woodlot thinnings, low-grade logs, sawmill activities, and the chipping of recycled wood, including end-of-life pallet material.

Woody residuals are used for various purposes, including mulch, soil amendments, playground surface material, boiler fuel, pellets, as well as fiber for pulp and structural panels such as OSB. Demand in many market segments is healthy. In some cases, in fact, it is booming! COVID-19 helped provide a “turbo boost” for wood residual products associated with consumers such aslandscaping mulch and home heating pellets as people have been spending more time at home and investing in home improvement projects.

Other market segments can be more fickle. One of the key challenges faced by wood product producers is that wood fiber is not economically feasible to ship great distances due to its low value. A common rule of thumb is that wood chips and sawdust are not profitable to ship more than 100 miles.

For this reason, wood fiber markets tend to be highly localized, depending upon the local demand for fiber products. If wood producers in an area are dependent upon a large local consumer of residuals such as a pulp and paper plant, and the local source is lost, it can leave businesses scrambling to find an outlet.

One particular challenge has been the closure of pulp and paper plants. In the case of the newsprint market, we are witnessing a decline in demand as people increasingly embrace digital media. In 2019, the global demand fornewsprint plunged 13% from the previous year. In 2020, thedemand for newsprint in Europe dropped by a whopping 20.5%.

Given the significance of that decline, it will be important for the forest sector to identify new markets for its woody residuals. One area of active research and investment is in bioproducts, a fast-growing category of products that include biochemicals, biomaterials, and bioenergy.

Wood Insulation for Buildings

Wood fiber home insulation is a $700 million market in Europe, supported by 15 production plants and offering insulation products with a much lower carbon footprint than alternatives. While the product line has a proven track record in Europe dating back over 15 years, it has not been produced in the U.S. That situation is about to change, with a new wood fiber insulation plant scheduled to begin production in 2022.

Equipment for the new Maine production plant has arrived from Germany. The facility, which will support up to 130 employees when at full production, is utilizing a shuttered pulp and paper plant. It will use woody residuals as feedstock, providing a valuable market for that material.

The plant will produce three products, including insulated board, batt, and loose-fill wood fiber. According to the manufacturer, the carbon footprint of the wood insulated board is four times better than that of foam plastic boards and seven times better than mineral wool board, its main competitors. For batt, the carbon footprint is five times better than fiberglass and seven times better than mineral wool. Other beneficial features of note are that the products don’t trap moisture, and they can be recycled without specialized equipment. They are also non-toxic and biodegradable.

Wood Fiber Clothing

A company based in Finland has been developing more sustainable alternatives to fiber materials such as cotton and rayon that rely on the use of chemicals in processing, which in turn can lead to water pollution and employee health issues.

The company’s production process turns wood material, including biomass, into a material called micro fibrillated cellulose, which in turn can be manufactured into eco-friendly clothing. The only production byproduct is evaporated water, and its process consumes a much smaller amount than would be required for cotton production. The company recently entered a 50-50 joint venture to build a $61 million plant to produce clothing fabric from wood pulp, scheduled to open in 2022.

Transparent Wood

Glass is commonly used for windows, but experts note that it comes at a significant economic and environmental cost. Regulating building temperatures accounts for 14% of primary energy consumption in the U.S., and one-quarter of this energy is lost through inefficient glass windows in cold weather.

Transparent wood windows, on the other hand, boast a thermal conductivity more than five times lower than glass, and toughness three times greater than glass. Earlier attempts to make transparent wood involved removing lignin through the use of toxic chemicals and high temperature, but it was an expensive product and the resulting product was brittle.

Researchers have developed a new cheap and effective method to produce transparent wood, however. A thin veneer of rotary cut wood can be treated with a solution of hydrogen peroxide, and after an hour in the sun or under a UV lamp, the peroxide bleaches out the color but leaving the lignin intact and the wood turned transparent. While this technology has yet to commercialized, the researchers feel it holds great potential as a new building material.

Research continues in the development of cellulose-based innovations that provide a lower carbon footprint than existing products, without compromising performance. Some of these products offer the potential to better utilize woody residuals while underscoring the importance of our forest resource.

milled wood blocks

Find Out More About the Forest Products Industry

forest products-milled wood blocks

From the structures we call home, to the colored mulch in our flower bed, to the wooden pallets that deliver the goods we rely on, products from grown forests play a crucial role in our lives.

So exactly what are forest products? Simply stated, forest products are materials derived from trees that are used for commercial use or consumer consumption. When most of us think about forest products, we typically focus on wood products such as lumber, structural panels, and paper.

Forest products include a range of non-timber items such as fruit, nuts, seeds, sap, and oil. In this installment of the Nature’s Packaging blog, however, we turn our attention to forest products that are derived from wood, and the wood-based forest products industry.

The Forest Products Industry

The forest products industry is an important contributor to both the Canadian and U.S. economies. It accounts for around 1.5% of the U.S. economy and contributes about 5% of the nation’s total manufacturing output. Regionally, it can be very significant. Forest products ranks as one of the top three contributors in some southern states. Canada’s forest sector contributed $23.9 billion to Canada’s GDP in 2019 or about 1.4%.

The forest industry comprises three main subsectors:

  • solid wood products manufacturing
  • pulp and paper
  • forestry and logging

Solid wood products manufacturing includes primary activities such as lumber and structural panels, as well as secondary products such as millwork, engineered wood products and wood packaging.

The pulp and paper product manufacturing subsector produces a wealth of products, covering everything from newsprint and household tissues to dissolving pulp for rayon production.

The forestry and logging subsector spans field operations and timber harvesting, including logging and transportation to mills.

Tree Harvest for Various Products

The harvest of trees generates three types of material, including sawtimber (including chip-n-saw), pulpwood, and finally harvest slash. Sawtimber, used to make products such as lumber and veneer, is typically most desirable. This is followed by pulpwood. Slash refers to the treetops, limbs, and other woody material left behind after logging takes place. The amount of slash generated is influenced by variables such as the size and quality of the harvested trees.

In the US South, for example, pine trees usually mature between 25 and 40 years, with thinning operations undertaken at 12-15 years and then again at 18-22 years, allowing trees the space they need to grow to maturity. As trees become larger, they become more valuable on a per-ton basis. Forest owners, therefore, are motivated to maximize their yield of mature timber.

Logs of a larger diameter are usually categorized as sawlogs, while those of a smaller diameter are considered pulpwood. Smaller diameter trees may be classified as unmerchantable. According to Forest2Market, plantation pine logs can be designated as follows:

  • 5”-7” diameter at breast height (DBH) – pulpwood
  • 8”-11” DBH – chip-n-saw
  • 12”+ DBH – sawtimber

Wood-based Forest Products

Natural Resources Canada suggests that forest products can be categorized into four segments: solid wood products (including lumber and structural panels), wood pulp, paper products (including newsprint, printing, and writing paper), and bioproducts (e.g. biofuels, biochemical, bioplastics) derived from biomass.

Lumber refers to harvested timber that is milled into products such as dimension lumber, and boards. Softwood dimension lumber is used mostly for framing purposes in residential construction. Lower-grade material is typically used for wood packaging products such as pallets. Logs may also be peeled from the outside in to create veneer. Veneer can be glued into layers or plies to make plywood. Other structural board products include oriented strandboard (OSB) and fiberboard. Cross laminated timber, constructed from glued layers of solid wood, is becoming increasingly popular.

Wood pulp is the term for wood fiber that has been reduced chemically or mechanically to pulp for use in the manufacture of paper and other products. Pulp can be derived from virgin forest harvest material such as pulpwood as well as from wood processing residuals. Pulp is used as an intermediate product to produce paper, packaging, hygiene, and textile products.

Biomass is generated from a variety of sources, including the branches and tops of trees after harvest, forest thinning and salvage, wood products manufacturing residuals and wood products recycling. Biomass has been a substantial energy source for the pulp and paper industry. Biomass is also used for a variety of other uses, including pulp feedstock, pellets, structural board, animal bedding, soil amendments, landscaping mulches and more.

There are also exciting new opportunities for bioproducts such as biochemicals and biomaterials. According to Natural Resources Canada, the growth potential and projected market size for emerging bioproducts are much greater than for traditional forest products combined, including pulp, lumber and newsprint.

Forest products sourced from sustainable North American forests are critical to our daily lives. In the future, there is also the exciting potential for new and emerging forest products to take center stage, further accentuating the importance of timber in our everyday lives.

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