Lighter panels, work on more efficient adhesives and recovering more value from panel raw materials were among the important subjects that drew 146 participants from 13 countries to the International Wood Composites Symposium (IWCS) sponsored by Washington State University in Seattle, Washington in early spring. But you wouldn’t know it was spring; a few flakes of snow fell on the first morning.

The opening was a ‘double-barrelled’ event: Wolf-Gerd Dieffenbacher was not only the keynote speaker, but also recipient of the symposium’s distinguished service award for his contributions to the industry. Mr Dieffenbacher is president and ceo of Dieffenbacher Gmbh & Co KG, Eppingen, Germany.

“When I was asked [to speak] in September, the industry was in reasonably good shape, but things have changed in the last six months. Our wood industry is in a crisis,said Mr Dieffenbacher.

Among the problems he listed were raw material, resin and “pressure of the authorities on environmental issues”.

“Lack of demand for wood based panels is the biggest problem,he said. “There are virtually no enquiries for new plants. We hear that particleboard lines in the US are running at about 50% of capacity and only about half the MDF plants in China are running.”

Mr Dieffenbacher reported North American production as being at one-third of 2006 levels. He said raw materials are more expensive. Many countries are promoting other power sources which compete for our raw materials. There is environmental pressure from authorities on production plants to reduce emissions, as well as pressure from the consumer side.

He indicated that some Dieffenbacher customers in Europe reduce the density of their particleboard to save raw material and transportation costs. He sees room for growth in India and China.

Mr Dieffenbacher said reduction of production costs is essential, with modernisation of plants and production lines. Alternative raw materials are a possibility, as is reducing panel density and resin consumption. Resin is dependent on crude oil and new resins with lower emissions are more expensive.

Pre-heating continuous lines with steam or microwave was another suggestion. He said agricultural waste is a potential source, particularly for MDF, although past strawboard projects have not been successful. China has successfully used 30% bamboo for MDF manufacture. He said logistic and transportation cost reductions are another possibility.

“On a positive note, the outlook beyond the present situation promises very favourable conditions for wood products. They fit into the political scheme of all governments and the demand will grow on a global scale as our populations increase,concluded Mr Dieffenbacher.

He then offered his outlook for 2009 and 2010:

• Positive image of wood products fits into the political scheme of all governments
• Competition with other wood users forces the panel industry to use new raw materials
• Opportunities to reduce production cost
• Potential for increased consumption of wood panels in many countries.

Lynn Michaelis, vice president and chief economist, Weyerhaeuser Company, traced some of the current economic problems. “The US Federal Reserve was part of the problem,he said. “They drove interest rates down and created a flood of money into the mortgage market. Short-term interest rates are zero, but long-term have gone up. Risk premiums are ‘off the top’.

“The US was living beyond its means. The richest country in the world was borrowing all this money from other countries and running a large trade imbalance.”

Dr Michaelis said US real estate values are down about US$10 trillion. In California, anyone who bought a house since 2002 has negative equity. He predicted that California needs at least two or three years before turning around. Retail sales are grim. “All traditional forecast tools are useless in this situation,he declared.

About the ubiquitous OSB, he said the US has more than enough; a huge oversupply problem.

“The price doesn’t even cover production costs,said the speaker. “The global economy is in a financial crisis. There is still some downside risk for the next six to 12 months,he concluded.

Jerrold E Winandy, Winandy & Associates, Mazomanie, Wisconsin, first advised: “Get rid of our dependence on foreign oil by getting serious about bioenergy”. Then he delved into composite panels, “Where surface area is everything”. He predicted that nanotechnology might provide the opportunity to move forward with lighter-weight, stronger panels.

He said cellulose products can be five to 10 times stronger, adding that organic material is one of the world’s most abundant materials and can be multi-functional. Advanced bonding can be used and there are even electrical qualities so lignocellulosic material can be used as a sensor.

Mr Winandy said lignin is not now being used in cellulose ethanol. “We have to realize that we really don’t take advantage of cellulose,he advised. “Chemically remove these things from the chips and then you have cellulose for composites. You have to be integrated and adaptable,he added.

In addition to traditional lumber, paper, paper board and composites, he sees opportunities for bio-refining to produce electricity, transportation fuels, chemical feedstocks, syn-gas, and nano-crystalline cellulose.

“In an integrated biomass technology approach, nanotechnology (dealing with structures 100 nanometers or smaller) will become a standard for a basic type of approach to science. It will become the fundamental scale for approaching a problem, similar to how we now think of using a ‘material science-type’ approach,he said.

Mr Winandy concluded that the US could and should be committed to developing both fuels and value-added materials from biomass.

Professor Bruce Lippke, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, advised that carbon and energy prices are going to drive a lot of changes. He said that five gallons of ethanol are needed to replace one gallon of gasoline. He said there is half as much fibre in an I-joist floor as in a dimension lumber floor.

He advised that carbon must be tracked from forests to products to buildings, with product substitution and end-of-life disposal to avoid unintentional policy conflicts. Given ongoing and anticipated changes in fossil energy costs, and the value placed on carbon emissions, the motivation for change can be expected to increase.

“Research clearly shows the folly of offering credits to one pool, like forestry, independent of all others. Forest carbon credits will likely reduce harvests by paying for increased forest carbon – a counterproductive result. A cap would increase fossil prices, like a fossil tax, but with much economic disruption,said Professor Lippke.

“A tax on fossil extraction would be allocated efficiently in the market and could be tax neutral with offsetting tax cuts. But this could start a trade war,he added.

Alessandro Marcolin, sales manager, PAL srl, Ponte di Piave, Treviso, Italy, said the current market requires reducing production costs and improving product quality as much as possible. His firm’s analysis shows a focus on producing thin flakes. He said core and face flakes must be classified, dust and heavy/thick flakes removed and blending optimised to give even distribution.

He said North American interest in using urban waste for particleboard production continues to increase, moving towards the trend in other countries. He said urban waste has almost completely replaced fresh wood in some areas of Europe and the Far East.

Mr Marcolin said particleboard recycled wood costs are 40 to 70% less than fresh wood, with the same dry glue consumption. However, electric power consumption is 7 to 8hp more per ton. Board surfaces are excellent and edges are post-formable, he said, while claiming that mechanical properties and chemical pollution meet standards. However, he said the processed recycled material must be clean.

Carbon and CARB (California Air Resources Board) are leading topics in any gathering of wood panel producers these days. CARB refers to the tight emissions standards of the US state of California. Those standards affect the entire world because of the size of the Californian market.

Steve Verhey, technical manager of certification firm TECO, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, said the rules apply to raw panels – OSB and LVL are exempt. He said CARB will be checking panels for compliance. Consumers of all types, from distributors to retailers, are still learning how the regulation affects them, so the full impact has not yet been felt throughout the distribution chain.
Mr Verhey declared, “There is no way to get around it. It’s here to stay. People can do it. It will add cost.”

Rod Gravley, technology director, Tri-Mer Corp, Owosso, Michigan, reported on his company’s three biological VOC (volatile organic compounds) control installations. Its Multiphase Biosystem for the wood products industry was introduced last year. He said the system saves on operating costs and it may also have advantages when carbon dioxide comes to the forefront.

He emphasised the importance of clean duct work. He said a significant portion of the materials remains in a gaseous state. The system is completely closed. Filtration takes out solid material. Flow feed is 250 to 300ft3/minute. The digester operates at 100ºF (37.8ºC). It accumulates material, providing continuous food supplies for the microbes during shutdowns.

The system can go off-line for two or three weeks and come back fairly quickly, though there are some problems: For every 3kg of VOC, 1kg of bacteria biomass grows. Particulate, which cannot be digested by the ‘bugs’, builds up in the system and cannot easily be removed. The bacteria start to die above 110ºF (43.3ºC).

Dirk Koltze, executive vice president, Siempelkamp LP, Charlotte, North Carolina, said his company has sold nine thin MDF lines in the last two years. The board produced is 1⁄16 to 3⁄16in thick.
The furnish is flash-dried and blended with rapid-curing PMDI resin.

Fibre preparation is the same as regular MDF up to a Siempelkamp mat former. Slow turning comb rollers even out fibres falling into the bunker. Out of the bunker, the fibre goes to a spreading head with fine-gapped interlocking rollers. Fibre balls are discharged at the head of the spreading rolls. The whole forming head spreads fibre optimally. The pre-press is a typical MDF model. A pressure roller produces a strong and stable mat, he said. The mat is side-trimmed and proceeds through a diagonal mat saw.

A compactor compacts the mat and it then goes to a continuous press with flexible hot platens at the infeed.

Siempelkamp executive vice-president Joachim Meier, Marietta, Georgia, said his company also has a new dry continuous press manufacturing process for wood fibre insulation board, tailored for such uses as residential roofs, walls and floors. He said the product has excellent thermal and sound insulation properties.

Siempelkamp’s first such low-density board line, in Gutex’s factory in Germany, has a capacity of up to 1,300m3/day at 80kg/m3. The plant has been running four shifts since 2007.

Other benefits claimed by Siempelkamp for dry over wet process fibreboard manufacture were: lighter boards possible down to 80kg/m3; thicker boards, up to 240mm in one layer; broad application range for roofs, walls, and floors; low production costs, no water management necessary.

David Pierce, director of industrial business development, Evergreen Engineering, Eugene, Oregon, reported on the Russian market. He said most of his company’s construction there took part during the Russian winter.

One side issue was that all the manuals and control screen required both Russian and English.
He said the rush to establish wood product manufacturing facilities in Russia has created numerous opportunities for machinery suppliers, and design and engineering firms, to participate first-hand in the development of Russia’s wood products manufacturing industry. The lessons learned and experiences gained from past projects provide a basis for successful planning and execution of future projects.

Symposium chairman Robert Tichy, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington, emphasised the importance of water damage in buildings. He said in Seattle, US$900m of water damage work was done. He described one method of damage protection as a vented wall system where cladding is separated from the wall. He said vapour barriers on the inside of walls help a great deal.

Shobhan Mittal, director, Greenply Industries Ltd, New Delhi, India, described his country as the world’s seventh largest – and also the largest democracy – with 28 states and seven union territories. India uses 27 languages.

He said the economy is growing phenomenally and is a strong destination for new investments. Forests cover 21.6% of the country. Wood based panel production includes plywood, particleboard and MDF.

There are thousands of small panel producers, giving an unregulated structure to the market. Plywood has 78% of the market and plywood production started in 1925, particleboard in 1950 and MDF in 1989. In 1966 the Indian government ordered tree cutting to stop without prior approval, so manufacturers shifted operations to port areas where they could import timber.

He said the total size of India’s wood panel market is roughly US$2bn. Prominent manufacturers include Greenply, Centuryply, Kitply, Archidply, Shirdi Industries, Nuchem Industries, Mangalam Timber, Bajaj Hindustan, and GVK Novopan.

Goran Oscarsson, manufacturing process specialist, Flakeboard, Lilburn, Georgia, described Flakeboard’s new patented process to circumvent MDF blowline resin problems. He said resin cost is a substantial component for all composite panel plants and is typically the largest variable cost in MDF; profitability is highly dependent on resin used. Flakeboard’s system has a reasonably short payback time, he claimed.

Mr Oscarsson said it is difficult to have an optimally-sized blowline. Flakeboard’s system has fibre coming from the dryer into a slower-moving flow. Heated air passes around the resin nozzles with a spike roller accelerating the fibre. The nozzle is kept free of build-up. Droplets, 5 to 15 microns in size, are achieved by compressed air in the nozzles. Higher velocity requires higher pressure. The air goes to a horizontal duct. A louvre system on the sides and bottom is covered with Teflon and line and nozzle cleaning is only required every three days or so, he said. They brush from the dosing pump to the head.

The system has resulted in resin savings of from 40 to 50%, said Mr Oscarsson, adding that there is better mat consolidation after the pre-press and that formaldehyde emissions are greatly reduced through adding resin after the dryer.

The company’s St Stephen, New Brunswick line uses a 42in refiner, single stage gas-fired dryer, and Mende press line to produce 4x5ft MDF/HDF in 1⁄8in and 1⁄4in thicknesses. Raw material is hardwood chips.

The binder is a standard UF (E1) resin which meets current CARB rules. Mr Oscarsson compared standard blow line resin content of 14 to 17% with 7 to 8% for the new dry-resin system. It also increased capacity by about 15%. Dieffenbacher has a licence to build the system.

Ken McFadden, product manager, Stiles Machinery Inc, Grand Rapids, Michigan advised: “Think better, not cheaper. Think bigger, but not heavier,in discussing lightweight panels. He said shipping costs drop signif-icantly when comparing particleboard with lightweight panels. He suggested that the panels can be used in office furniture, store fixtures, exhibit material and interior flush doors.

He listed environmental advantages of lower transportation costs, mostly formaldehyde-free, and less raw materials required. Paper honeycomb can be made entirely of recycled newspapers and magazines.

Günter Natus, technical director of Dieffenbacher’s wood business unit, suggested greater use of urban wood waste and waste from annual plants for panel production. He said governments are concerned about the carbon footprint and are subsidising burning wood [to produce energy] instead of producing panels from it. This results in higher raw material costs.

He said Belgian and French mills have used the strong fibres of flax for some time. Hemp also provides strong fibres.

Prof Timothy G Rials, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, outlined the advantages of pulling hemicellulose from the raw material before it enters the conventional manufacturing process, with the added advantage of significant improvements in many performance properties. This is done through hot water extraction, which generates a sugar stream for conversion to fuel, chemicals, or paper additive.

He said the US now has a capacity to produce nine billion gallons per year of ethanol from corn. “We have plenty of wood that could generate significant amounts of ethanol or electricity,Professor Rials said.

Douglas E Howell, Daubert Chemical Co, Chicago, Illinois, discussing current adhesives, said tackiness, open time, cross-linkable, pot life, flexibility and rigidity, water resistance and VOC content are all important. He said the ideal lamination adhesive would have infinite open time and pot life. “But, unfortunately, ideal adhesives don’t exist,he said.

He described a hand-built car built from wood composites, except for the engine and exhaust.
Jan Pippert, commercial manager, Electronic Wood Systems GmbH, Hameln, Germany, outlined the advantages of on-the-line thickness measurement. He said, “Especially on thin panels it is essential to keep the thickness constant”.

Data goes directly from the system to the control room. If the connection is lost, the measuring system continues to work. The EWS Online Calibration System can upgrade existing systems.

Ulrich Hilbers, doctoral student, University of Hamburg, Germany, described ultrasonic inspection of wood composites. He said the ultrasound travels through the air to the panel and is converted to a signal on the panel’s reverse side. It can be used to visualise deviations from a smooth production process.

Particleboard tests showed a stronger transmission signal for longer pressing times. Neither adhesive content nor adhesive type produced consistent trends, said Mr Hilbers.

Mathias Gruchot, Swedspan International sro, Bratislava, Slovak Republic, told the group that vertical density profile in wood based panels is one of the most important material parameters. He said it correlates with many properties essential for the panel’s end use.

Trajan Sandweg, manager of sales and product management, Siempelkamp, Krefeld, Germany, said his company’s SicoScan is “the final building block to complete a fully automated production line integrating quality measuring equipment into the machines, process control technology and automation technology.

It precisely coordinates measuring equipment for recording the mat moisture on the forming line, the weight per unit area behind the mat former, the mat thickness and the delaminations at the press discharge end as well as the board weight.

The sensors interface with the Siempelkamp line control software in the central control room and provide the information directly to the controllers, without the need for a separate computer dedicated to quality measuring equipment.

C N Pandey, director, Indian Plywood Industries Research & Training Institute, Bangalore City, Karnataka State, brought attention to India’s bamboo resource. He said India has the second-largest bamboo resource in the world, with 136 species and 8.96 million hectares of bamboo forests, representing approximately 12.8% of the total forest cover. Total growing stock is 80.42 million tons at the rate of 10 tons per hectare and annual harvest of 4.5 million tons. In addition, 1.75 million hectares of land outside the forest is being cultivated for bamboo.

Research and development efforts at Indian Plywood Industries Research and Training Institute (IPIRTI) have given birth to several bamboo based structural products such as: Bamboo Mat Board (BMB) and Bamboo Mat Veneer Composite (BMVC) as an alternate to plywood; Bamboo Mat Corrugated Sheet (BMCS) as an alternate to metal corrugated roofing sheets; Bamboo Mat Compreg; Bamboo Wood (BW); Bamboo Flooring Tiles; High Density Shuttering grade panels; Bamboo Mat Ridge Cap (BMRC); Bamboo Mat Moulded Skin Board (BMMSB) for doors; and Bamboo particleboard.

A symposium poster session with 24 entrants provided the opportunity for wood researchers to showcase their recent work.