They came from 31 countries around the world as well as Europe, including North America, China, Japan and the Middle East, and the Maritim Airport Hotel once again offered a convenient and suitable venue for the symposium to cover its wide range of topics.

Ladislaus (Laszlo) Döry, president of the EPF, opened proceedings by giving details from the latest EPF annual report and summarising the most recent developments affecting the production and consumption of wood based panels. He also emphasised the serious threat posed by the subsidising of burning biomass (ie wood) for energy.

Dr Thomas Leissing of panel maker Egger looked at the risks/opportunities for the industry and listed these as: European debt crises; climate change; raw material supply; over-capacity; and demographics. He suggested ways to approach these problems/opportunities and concluded: "We are facing numerous challenges, but we as Egger consider the position to be positive in total and look forward to growth".

Vicente Leoz Argüelles from the European Commission (EC) looked at Consequences of the implementation of the EU Construction Products Regulation [CPR] for wood based panels, compared to the former Construction Products Directive [CPD].

"The meaning of CE marking was not clearly defined in the CPD and the CPD is complex and time-consuming," said Mr Leoz. He explained that a CPR is a regulation, rather than a directive, and that its key concept is a Declaration of Performance (DoP). Any national markings will be explicitly forbidden.

The DoP, he said, should declare all that the client needs from your product and all that is in the harmonised standard.

Information about dangerous substances, made obligatory by REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals), must also accompany the DoP.

The speaker concluded ominously: "Be ready by the 1st July 2013, at the latest".

Also from the EC came Peter Wehrheim, head of the unit for deforestation, who spoke about Climate benefits of harvested wood products and their inclusion in the EU’s climate policy.

He described the commission’s proposed policy on LULUCF (land use, land use change and forestry) as an accounting system bringing together forest management, cropland and grassland management and wetland drainage and rewetting. He said its accounting rules will allow member states of the EU to capture the impact of forests in their greenhouse gas accounts.

"LULUCF recognises the substantial climate contribution that harvested wood products have and encourages the cascaded use of solid biomass," concluded the speaker.

The next speaker was Dr Alfred Teischinger of BOKU university/Wood KPlus, who spoke about Wood and natural fibre based lightweight panels: Opportunities and limitation.

"Today, conventional wood based panels are getting lighter and then there are lightweight panel [constructions] such as honeycomb core, lightweight core, etc. It is generally accepted that 450/500kg/m3 is ‘lightweight’ and under 400kg/m3 is extralightweight," said Dr Teischinger.

"The target is a stiff and lightweight panel and wood based composites perform much better than metals on a stiffness/density graph."

Consumer research on the subject indicated that consumers have concerns about the service life of lightweight panels and tend to perceive lightweight furniture as lower quality, while they consider price first, above better technical properties.

Claus Seemann of panel maker Pfleiderer talked about Added value material for changing market demands.

In the area of sustainability, Mr Seemann listed the multitude of product labels today, from Blue Angel to FSC, PEFC, TüV toxproof and many more and suggested that these are confusing and give general information overload.

He introduced Pfleiderer’s Balance Board, which is constructed of conventional wood chips, mixed with a biogranulate in the core layer. The panel is made from 100% renewables, has high strength properties according to EN312 P2 and weighs only 500kg/m3 (19mm basis), said the speaker.

The next speaker was Stephan Weinkötz of resin maker BASF, who described particleboards made with Kaurit Light, an expanded polymer, which when mixed with the wood chips, fills cavities in the core, provides additional binding sites, gives high strength with counter pressure that allows higher compaction of surface layers – and of course saves weight

Ernst Greten, founder of Grecon Electronics, described optimised forming for MDF, particleboard or OSB using GreCon’s High Precision Scale (HPS). This is an x-ray based system which can be combined with a thickness gauge – and with a Dieffensor for full automation – to save 1% of material during forming. This could amount to savings of €20-30,000 per month, said Mr Greten.

Robert Famers of Andritz Fiedler described the company’s development of the spiral bar design on refiner plates as opposed to parallel bars. This, he said, produced more homogenous fibre and reduced energy consumption. Next came the two-zone spiral with further homogeneity/energy saving. The company’s latest development is a three-zone spiral.

Mr Famers also described Andritz’s move to its Diamond Series alloy for refiner plates – the D-Series – which he said reduced energy consumption and doubled the lifetime of the plates.

The next speaker was Lars-Erik Bergquist from Metso Paper, Sweden, who described the Metso Fibreboard Optimiser, which he claimed offered reduced energy consumption and improvements in face and core density deviation.

Birgit Östman of the SP Technologica Research Institute of Sweden looked at Fire protection ability of wood based panels and said that all classes K210, K230 and K260 have been reached for wood based panels, but a request for CWFT (Classification Without Further Testing) had resulted in no decision from the authorities since it was submitted in 2007.

Klaus Oberdorf of Electronic Wood Systems (EWS) described the company’s new generation of spark detection systems, employing infra-red technology and a completely new design of spray nozzle, with the spray directed into the ‘wind’ in the ducting to improve misting characteristics.

Marie-Lise Roux of the French FCBA technology institute asked what features are needed for particleboard to meet furniture manufacturing customers’ expectations?

She said that French furniture makers had noticed that particleboard seems to have changed since 2009, seeing more defects during machining and gluing – and in the finished board.

These furniture companies believed that low-formaldehyde panels were of lower quality and asked FCBA to investigate and define new specifications for furniture board. Work is ongoing.

Next, Volker Thole of Fraunhofer WKI looked at Geometry of the OSB core layer strands as an influencing parameter. He looked at strand diameter, length and width. He suggested that current core layer strands in the industry are too long.

Changing the subject dramatically, Thomas Peter, MD of Dieffenbacher System- Automation, described the company’s ‘Colorizer’ large format digital printing system.

He said the system offers an almost unlimited range of colours and the ability to change colour or design without stopping the line.

The printing head moves over the board rather than the board moving under the printer, enabling exact positioning of the board, said Mr Peter. Print resolution of 600x600dpi is offered, together with optical resolution of 1200dpi.

The final presentation of the first day was by Niklaus Polt of Habasit about the company’s ATEX certificate for forming belts, which concerns the issue of static charges on belts possibly causing explosions. Habasit’s belts are all ATEX certified, said the speaker.

In an unscheduled slot, Professor Reiner Marutzky, representing the Wilhelm Klauditz Institute (part of Fraunhofer WKI since 1970), presented the Wilhelm Klauditz Award 2012 to a group of scientists for developing a new 1K PUR adhesive with high temperature resistance. The value of the award was €5,000.

Sasol Wax then generously hosted an evening reception with an excellent dinner, held at Hannover zoo.

The second morning was dedicated to a very familiar topic – formaldehyde.

Tunga Salthammer of Fraunhofer WKI’s talk was entitled formaldehyde indoor air guidelines – the good, the bad and the ugly.

He explained that, while indoor air quality (IAQ) limits were falling, outdoor concentrations of formaldehyde were rising, for a number of reasons, including the increased use of biofuel.

"You can’t just look at indoor air sources, you have to take into account outdoor sources because there is air exchange between indoors and outdoors," he said.

"A ‘good’ guideline is necessary and can be adhered to without undue cost or effort. A ‘bad’ guideline value is below toxicological demands and its compliance requires unnecessary effort. An ‘ugly’ guideline is far below toxicological demands and its compliance is hardly possible under normal living conditions and requires unreasonable cost and effort."

Dr Salthammer also indicated that, while costs increase with lower formaldehyde limits, benefits, beyond a certain point, tail off.

Phil Hope is a British national working for Formacare in Brussels and he explained the position of the chemical in the European regulatory arena.

"Proposed regulations could lead to the removal of formaldehyde from the European market unless we do something about it," said Dr Hope.

He pointed out that the French authorities have proposed that formaldehyde be classified as a category 1A ‘known human carcinogen’.

"If that is approved, formaldehyde would become a ‘substance of high concern’ under REACH," said the speaker.

"Formacare believes that formaldehyde should not be reclassified as a known human carcinogen. We have produced a robust scientific case and I have visited 14 EU states and I believe that it will be reclassified as category 1A or 1B."

If formaldehyde is reclassified under REACH, it could be subject to REACH Authorisation or REACH Regulation.

The former would mean that, after a certain date, formaldehyde would no longer be able to be marketed in Europe unless an application-specific ‘Authorisation’ is granted and this may be renewable after five years, involving considerable cost.

The latter is preferred by Formacare as the least bad option.

"Avoiding reclassification is currently a high priority but the outcome is far from guaranteed," cautioned Dr Hope.

Dominique Coutrot of the UIPP (the French association of panel manufacturers) spoke about The formaldehyde situation in Europe: A French view.

He described the formaldehyde issue as "certainly one of the biggest challenges of the panel industry’s life".

He mentioned the use of formaldehyde catchers in resins, use of isocyanates and modification of resins using nano particles. He also looked at biological resins such as lignin.

Mr Coutrot pointed out that biological resins have disadvantages, including board properties, while pMDI is the only chemical alternative, but only for some uses.

"We can only identify ways providing a partial answer to the problem,"’ he concluded.

Boris Ivanov from Russia looked at the regulations in Russia and the EU-Asian customs alliance and pointed out the need for Russia to cooperate with European researchers on technical documentation requirements at all levels.

Johann Moser and Stefan Weilhartner of Dynea Austria described the company’s AsWood resin system for P2 particleboard and said they are working on a similar system for p5 particleboard and for MDF.

Georges Francis of Advachem was next to the podium to talk about A novel additive for wood panels: 1=3 fire retardant, formaldehyde catcher and hardener.

He said that this resin system did not compromise panel properties or press productivity. It has so far only been used in MDF.

Tino Schulz of the ihd Dresden institute gave a presentation on Plywood and moulded plywood made from thermally modified veneers.

His research used five-ply beech plywood and he found that construction of the moulded plywood (seat ‘buckets’) had to be modified.

Erik Vangronsfeld of Huntsman took as his subject MDI: Classification; worker and consumer risk – perception versus facts; REACH.

"You need to minimise exposure and therefore risk. Every exposure can be prevented and it is important to believe this," he said. "MDI is used in low concentrations and is not volatile. It is almost fully cured after pressing and there are no emissions from worked panels."

A student from FCBA Grenoble, Elena Tikhonova, presented her PhD thesis on fibreboard layering. She introduced paper rejects to the core layer of an MDF board so that the board was composed of 80% wood fibre and 20% paper rejects.

Ms Tikhonova found that bending strength could be increased by this method.

In a departure from conventional panels, Benedetto Pizzo from CNR-IVALSA in Florence, Italy, presented New shear strength test methods to evaluate the bonding quality of cross-laminated timber.

The final speaker of the symposium was Peter Meinlschmidt of Fraunhofer WKI. His subject was Testing of innovative detection methods on recovered wood for particleboard production.

He pointed out that several European countries use recycled wood to a greater or lesser extent, with Italy in the lead at 89%.

The law in Germany, he explained, restricts the use of waste wood in particleboard to certain categories, due to pollutants that it may contain.

Dr Meinlschmidt described three methods for detecting these materials in recycled wood: NIR spectroscopy; ion mobility spectroscopy; and x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy.

The symposium was closed by Dr Bohumil Kasal, director of Fraunhofer WKI, with thanks to the speakers and delegates. He also announced that the 9th edition of the symposium will be held in the same venue on October 8-10, 2014.