Nobody needed reminding that this was an economically tough year as the delegates gathered at La Cité Internationale des Congrès conference centre in Nantes, France, for the thirteenth edition of the conference which began as the European Panel Products Symposium (EPPS) in northWales in the UK in 1997.
Opening the symposium, Robert Elias, commercial manager of the BioComposites Centre based at the University of Wales Bangor, and organizers of IPPS, admitted that finding sponsors for the social events had proved impossible this year.
However, that did not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the delegates who made the most of the excellent restaurant facilities in the historic city of Nantes.
Neither, of course, did it affect the quantity or quality of the papers presented in a packed three-day programme.
The keynote speaker to open IPPS was Kris Wijnendaele, secretary general of both the European Panel Federation (EPF) and the European federation of the plywood industry (FEIC).
He talked about ‘Market developments and challenges for the future’ and presented the statistics for the European woodworking industries as a whole.
“The industry has been hit very hard by the [economic] crisis,said the speaker, stating that in 2008, particleboard production fell 8.5% on average, while MDF fell 8.3% (the first time there has been a decrease) and OSB 9.5%.
For plywood production, the figure for 2008 in the EU producing countries fell 7.2% compared to 2007, although Russian FEIC members showed an increase of over 21%.
“There are signs that the bottom has been reached in some countries and sectors but it will be some time before we see a recovery,said Mr Wijnendaele. He went on to point out the rise in costs in 2008, including wood (+4%), resin (+20%), energy (+30%) and transport (+6%).
“Who is helping the woodworking sector in Europe?asked the secretary general. “The wood sector is largely forgotten while, for example, Canada supports its wood industry.”
Mr Wijnendaele went on to suggest that the EU could: issue general communications on the positive role of wood based products in the fight against climate change; reduce VAT tariffs for residential construction/renovation and ‘Kyoto-friendly’ products; give rewards to consumers for replacing old kitchens, bathrooms etc (like the motor car replacement schemes in some countries); and encourage wood recycling.
“Our industry has a very low general credibility with politicians and regulatory bodies and it is up to the industry [to improve this],concluded Mr Wijnendaele.
Session 1, ‘Sustainability and sustainable buildings’ was kicked off by John Guerin of Weyerhaeuser Products Ltd, Belgium.
His paper aimed to set a benchmark for the forest products industry for the 21st century, focusing on sustainable forest management (SFM) and certification, sustainability of supply and other key drivers. He used Weyerhaeuser’s mill in Uruguay to illustrate his point, as the company now has 150,000ha growing there, mainly eucalyptus, and aims to have 200,000ha by 2012. The product is  sustainably-sourced plywood.
“The market reality is that markets for sustainable, certified products are growing,concluded Dr Guerin.
‘Materials and their contribution towards the sustainable buildings LEED approach’ was the subject of Aurelio Ramirez Zargosa’s presentation. He is the founder and president of the Spain Green Building Council (GBC). The council’s members are made up of any companies related to construction, plus federal, local and state governments. It is one of a number of GBCs worldwide.
The acronym LEED stands for ‘Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ and is a system for the design, construction and operation of green buildings in terms of water and energy efficiency and recycling.
“We are continually striving to make the good practice of today the standard practice of tomorrow,said the speaker. The next presenter was Claire Cornillier from the French technological institute FCBA. Her subject was ‘environmental product declaration (EPD) of wood based panels: An answer to sustainable building requirements’.
Ms Cornillier reported on a three-year study commissioned by the French wood based panel producers’ union (UIPP), completed in June 2009. She explained that the EPD is based on life cycle analysis (LCA) and the goal of the study was to produce generic environmental data about wood based panels manufactured in France, using particleboard, OSB and MDF/HDF.
The study produced 12 EPDs for French panel products and concluded that the production process accounts for over 90% of its environmental impact and that to improve the panels’ eco-profile, the industry should focus on glue production as this accounts for up to 50% of the production stage in terms of non-renewable energy.
Dennis Jones of Woodknowledge Wales and the Building Research Establishment Wales looked at sustainability tools used in the UK for construction materials and products and concluded that: “wood and panel products, due to their manufacture from a renewable material, have good to excellent environmental and thermal ratings [and are increasingly viewed] as a sustainable construction material”.
That concluded Session 1. Session 2 was on ‘Indoor air quality and formaldehyde’.
The keynote presentation was by Maureen Gorsen from California, who spoke on ‘Green chemistry: policy and regulation’ and described some of the many initiatives of that state in the pursuit of ‘green’ goals. In this industry, we know all about their response to formaldehyde of course.
Filipe Silva of Porto University, Portugal, described his study of formaldehyde scavengers for the production of low formaldehyde-emission particleboards.
“In order to produce wood particleboard with low formaldehyde emission, there are two strategies,suggested Mr Silva.
The first was to use resins with a low formaldehyde/urea molar ratio, but this has disadvantages in terms of panel properties; the second is to use chemical scavengers to restrict formaldehyde emission directly in the panels.
Mr Silva reported that, of the possible scavengers tested, a urea solution and a starch offered the most promising results, while a scavenger called Lionite and a sodium metabisulphite scavenger both had good performance.
‘Liquified wood as a formaldehyde scavenger for wood based panels’ was the title of the presentation by Sergej Medved of the University of Lubljana, Slovenia.
The liquefied wood was made from fines of poplar, oak, spruce and beech by a process using polyhydric alcohols.
Mr Medved reported that the addition of liquefied wood at up to 30% did produce improvements in formaldehyde emissions, although there were some negative effects on panel characteristics.
Baha Guezguez of the local École Supérieure du Bois in Nantes (‘home’ of our regular contributor Dr Mark Irle), gave her first-ever presentation, very ably, in English.
Her subject was ‘An investigation of the origin of formaldehyde found in poplar veneer’. This was just the veneers, pressed together without the addition of glue. Ms Guezguez found that an upper limit of release of 100 microgrammes/ m2/hour was an appropriate target for plywood; that wood, though a source of formaldehyde, contributes little to overall emissions from a panel; and that wood can act as a ‘trap’ for formaldehyde and thus has the potential to regulate formaldehyde in the air; and that moisture content influences formaldehyde emission.
That brought an interesting and informative first day of IPPS to a close, followed by a poster presentation.
Day two, Session 3: ‘Plywood and laminated products’ began with a paper from Marek Grzeskiewicz of the University of Warsaw, Poland, on ‘Physical and mechanical properties and burning behaviour of beech plywood made of thermally modified veneers’.
He reported that such veneers reduced the mechanical properties of plywood made from them, but also reduced swelling, water absorption and thermal conductivity.
Coming all the way from Australia, Peter Vinden, professor at the University of Melbourne, reported on his research into microwave-assisted drying of radiate pine veneer.
A similar paper on microwave technology for improving uptake of preservative by peeler cores, from some of his students, won the poster session prize.
The speaker claimed his process was clean and energy-efficient and produced a superior dried veneer quality.
Significantly, the microwaves are directed at the surface of the veneer rather than its core. The process was found to speed up the rate of drying, reduce within- and between-veneer moisture content variability, to moisture-level any wet pockets, eliminate drying defects and to improve quality attributes.
Returning to the theme of thermal modification, this time of birch plywood, Vladimir Biziks of the Latvian institute of Wood Chemistry, took to the podium.
His work was carried out in cooperation with Latvian plywood manufacturer Latvijas Finieris and the aim was to improve the durability properties of birch plywood.
He found that increasing thermal modification temperatures led to decreased mechanical strength, but that in the 140- 180ºC range, resistance to decay increased.
Mathias Lugoye from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, reported on the possibility of using bamboo mats made of woven slivers as three-ply boards for interior applications and concluded that such panels were in fact viable as an alternative to wood based panels.
‘Enhancing the environmental and mechanical properties of LVL [laminated veneer lumber]’ was the topic of Rémy Marchal of LABOMAP, France.
The objective was to use thicker veneers, and therefore less glue, without adversely affecting the mechanical properties of the LVL due to veneer lathe checking.
The preliminary results were promising, reported Mr Marchal, though further work is required and is under way.
Session 4 turned delegates’ attention to ‘Lightweight panels’ and began with a presentation by Maxim Peretolchin of chemicals giant BASF, Germany, on the company’s Kaurit Light polymer.
The polymer was foamed and added to the core layer material of particleboard and was found to reduce the weight of the board by 30%, using conventional particleboard-making machinery.
‘Perceptions of Austrian furniture customers of lightweight materials’ was the title of a paper by Asta Eder of Wood K Plus. This project is ongoing to the end of 2009, but initial conclusions were that lightweight panels had high potential for substitution in kitchen worktops, but only medium potential in carcases for kitchen and office furniture; and low potential in office desk tops.
The next speaker was Max Britzke of Dresden University of Technology, Germany. His paper was on ‘The continuous production of sandwich panels with paper honeycomb core for furniture applications’.
Mr Britzke pointed out that such sandwich panels are not new, but are often produced non- or quasi-continuously and with framing in them and with typically 3mm particleboard or fibreboard faces.
His project investigated using thinner faces, such as 0.7mm continuous pressure laminate (CPL), which is supplied on rolls and which, with ‘endless’ strips of honeycomb core, can be used in a fully continuous process.
While the project produced good panels economically, additional work is to be carried out on appropriate adhesives – and applicators for them.
Session 5, ‘Machinery, process control and machining’ began with another keynote speech, this time from Jussi Silventoinen of INDUFOR OY, Finland.
His paper was entitled ‘Wood products benchmarking – a tool for better performance’.
“Benchmarking is the process of comparing the cost, cycle time, productivity or quality of a specific process or method to another that is widely considered to be an industry best or relevant practice,said Mr Silventoinen. “only by knowing where you are now can you tell where you need to go.”
A good benchmarking study must be designed for a specific purpose or area of the business and you must decide the parameters in advance, advised the speaker, saying that “the final aim is profitability”.
‘High energy and maintenance savings by improving tribology in continuous MDF/OSB and particleboard presses’ was presented by Achin Offermann of Idemitsu Lube Europe, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Idemitsu is a producer of specialized lubricants for the chains and rollers of continuous presses and Mr Offermann claimed significant energy, oil and maintenance savings on presses using his company’s lubricants.
Jorge Martins from the University of Porto, Portugal, spoke about the “Effects of formaldehyde scavengers on the machining of particleboard’, testing boards made using several different scavengers, and concluded that they have a much lower influence on energy consumption than do the machining conditions. However, all scavengers tested did lead to a significant reduction in edge quality of the boards. He also concluded that the scavenger with the best performance is urea – and that fine urea has a much better performance than coarse urea.
The next presentation was something completely different as Robert Massen of Baumer Inspection, Konstanz, Germany, described the use of ‘Automatic physical and aesthetic repair of wood panels’.
Mr Massen pointed out that physical and aesthetic defects require different sensors. Hence the development of the ColourBrain multi-sensorial scanner. Combining this scanner with advanced robotics for fully-automatic patching has led to a system capable of invisibly ‘repairing’ wood, stone or other materials.
Jörg Hasener of German company GreCon described the company’s new generation of inline control systems for wood based panel production lines, measuring moisture content, weight per unit area, mat temperature, board density and density profile, thickness and weight of the panel. He also described the Dieffensor system to detect foreign material in the mat before the press.
That brought us to the end of day two of the symposium.
Session 6 was on ‘Wood based panels – recycling and novel feedstocks’.
The final conference of COST Action E49: ‘Processes and performance of wood based panels’ took place immediately before IPPS, in Nantes, and Dr Mark Irle, research director of Ecole Supérieure du Bois, Nantes, and chairman of the COST Action, reported  on progress since the Action started in 2005.
Dr Irle said the challenges facing the industry were: strong competition; raw material supplies, especially wood; and regulation and legislation.
He identified the challenges facing research as: The ‘low-tech’ image of wood; increasing competition for funds among themselves and other sectors; and the credibility gap between science and the industry.
COST Action E49 was intended to bring the European research community together and coordinate national efforts and intensify the interactions between research and industry. Its website,, enables industry members to search for projects and vote for them, thus changing priorities accordingly. The Action organised conferences
and workshops, short-term scientific missions and training schools.
A last-minute insertion of a paper then occurred, with Amine Bouslati of Ecole Supérieure du Bois stepping up to the rostrum at short notice to deliver, very competently, ‘A preliminary investigation of the variation of heavy metal contents in recovered wood’.
He classified recovered wood in France and reported the contaminants were copper, chrome, zinc, cobalt, boron and cadmium and that 80% of recovered wood in France was contaminated to some degree.
This was an ongoing project with the objective of getting a protocol adopted, said Mr Bouslati.
Continuing the recycled wood theme, Marcin Klimczewski of Warsaw University, Poland, looked at the properties of fibreboard pulps manufactured from selected types of recovered wood.
Two types of recovered wood were studied: pallets and packing; and fibreboard from furniture elements.
The first type was found to have shorter fibre lengths and thus was best suited to lower density boards such as insulation board, while the second type can be successfully utilised in both high density (HDF) and insulation boards.
A familiar speaker at many such conferences is Professor Edmone Roffael (retired) of the University of Göttingen, Germany.
His paper was entitled ‘Recycling of UF-bonded fibreboards’ in which he investigated whether conditions used in conventional pulping and defibration were adequate and optimal for recycled fibreboard manufacture, whether the pulps obtained were equivalent to fresh wood pulps, and how the properties of thermo-mechanical pulps obtained from recycled boards can be improved.
Professor Roffael concluded that recycled fibreboard can be used to partially substitute wood in MDF and suggested that an extruder used in place of a refiner for the recycled fibre was advantageous as there was less degradation of the resin than in a refiner and therefore less water pollution problems.
Following the coffee break, delegates settled down for the final session, number 7, simply entitled ‘Resins’.
Dr Stefanie Wielund of the Fachhochschule Salzburg, Austria, opened with ‘Formaldehyde-free dimethoxyethanal (DME)-derived resins for wood based panels. Catchy title.
Her work revealed that such a resin is possible and environmentally-friendly and had the major advantages of being colourless, of low toxicity, easily handled and with a long shelf-life.
However, and I quote: “To fulfil the requirements of the wood industry the reactivity of the adhesive needs to be enhanced!”.
The final presentation of IPPS 2009 was entitled ‘Evaluation of adhesive cure by ABES and IPATES for two UF resins’. It was given by João Ferra from the University of Porto.
Before you ask, ABES stands for Automated Bonding Evaluation System and IPATES for Integrated Pressing and Testing System.
Mr Ferra explained that formaldehyde release issues have led to a decrease in the molar ratio of formaldehyde to urea in UF resins, causing lengthened hardening times and weakened mechanical properties of particleboard. “It is necessary to optimise the synthesis of UF resins, studying how the production process can be adjusted to obtain the desired performance,said the speaker.
He prepared resins by two methods: (1) the alkaline-acid process; (2) the strongly acid process. He then tested the bonds produced and found that the IPATES test always gave a better performance for resin (1), while the ABES test suggested the differences between (1) and (2) were slight.
Dr Rob Elias brought the 2009 edition of IPPS to a close, summing up two-and-a-half days of information and networking, and indicating that IPPS 2010 will return to its roots in North Wales, UK, to celebrate an important anniversary.
As delegates took lunch together on the Friday of the conference, most expressed satisfaction with the programme and its wide-ranging content, which continued the traditions of EPPS since its inception in 1997.