There couldn’t be a better time for researchers and producers to get together to solve problems of wood supply, emissions and power and heat generation. Some 316 European, Asian, Australian, and North American delegates met in June to plan and consider solutions. Most were from the US.

It was a surprise to some that such products as biofuels and energy generation are putting pressure on wood residue supplies which form the backbone of composite wood based panel manufacture.

Research is proceeding on this work with the object of decreasing reliance on finite supplies of fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas.

There were 16 concurrent sessions encompassing more than 115 speakers and 92 poster sessions in the halls.

Keynoter Curt M Stevens, executive vice president, Louisiana-Pacific Corp, Nashville, Tennessee, commented on the rapid consolidation of customers, saying: “The top builders now build 21% of US houses and we expect further consolidation. There has been a 300% growth in the ‘big box’ retailers”.

He commented on a greater separation from timber. His firm has sold all its timberlands.

As to the future, he said, “We face the dizzying impact of fast-changing social and economic trends in globalisation, immigration patterns, instant information access and the Climate Change and Green movements.

“At the same time, our industry is undergoing important structural shifts: new land ownership patterns, consolidation of manufacturers and customers and changing distribution patterns.”

He continued: “While these changes open up real opportunities for the industry, they also present threats affecting every aspect of our business – from research, forestry and wood procurement to manufacturing, product development and sales”.

Mr Stevens advocated looking at the market from the customer inward, rather than from the forest outward.

Jeffrey M Yelle, Louisiana-Pacific’s corporate quality manager, added: “Quality and continuous improvement have exploded into a worldwide enterprise. Lean management and other methodologies are no longer confined to automotive and high-tech industries. The skills required by today’s wood product quality professionals are greater than ever before. As cost controls and quality requirements become more imposing, we must continue to find ways to deliver more for less”.

Miles P Drake, senior vice president, Weyerhaeuser, Federal Way, Washington, said that in 1820, twice as much energy was plant-derived as came from mineral fuels. Today, it is 1 in 8.

He said cellulose-based fuel will be the long-term solution with wood more efficient than corn for producing fuel. The forest also requires less intensive management such as fertiliser and irrigation.

Steven G Winistorfer, president, TECO, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, observed that, while wood production in the US continues to grow, manufacturing capacity is held by fewer and larger companies. Georgia-Pacific produces almost half of the US’ plywood.

The global and green markets

He said the ‘green movement’ is always an important consideration. He believes that some consolidation is needed within associations and agencies serving the wood industry.

Mr Winistorfer concluded: “The world has become a smaller place. We must understand what is required in foreign markets. The manufacturing base has consolidated. And we must provide certifications and educational support that meets consumer demand for environmentally friendly products and services”.

John G Bradfield, Composite Panel Association (CPA), Gaithersburg, Maryland, cited the US state of California’s recent formaldehyde restrictions as the world’s toughest. “The consequences will be world-wide,” he said, “because everyone wants to sell there.”

He said the composite wood industries will be one of the ‘greenest’ industries in the world.

Mr Bradfield said he expected US energy dependence to keep rising, with a 60% gap between consumption and production in 2010. He predicted petroleum production to peak in 2030 and then drop off. He expected natural gas production to flatten by 2020.

He observed that interest in biomass energy continues to grow with sources of energy crops, agricultural crop residues, mill residues, logging residues and thinnings; and corn for ethanol.

He recalled that China was a net petroleum exporter in 1993, but now imports more than 3.6 million barrels a day.

He predicted that the price of wood in any form will soon reflect the value of that wood as an energy resource and that mill residue availability will likely continue to decline, even in the absence of demand from the developing bioenergy industry.

Mr Bradfield advised the panel industry to stay abreast of national and international energy trends and prices, pay close attention to the emerging bioenergy sector and appeals for subsidies, advocate for the industry with political and regulatory decision makers, examine how other sectors such as pulp & paper are responding to the bioenergy challenge and consider alternative raw material supplies such as agricultural fibre and carpet backing.

He said producers might consider alternative businesses such as wood mulch and wood pellet industries.

Janice K Wiedenbeck, US Forest Service, Princeton, West Virginia, described a bad windstorm that blew down timber on 14,000 acres in Pennsylvania without immediate salvage. After 17 months on the ground, less than 3% of cherry trees produced veneer logs. Sapwood stain was evident in all species. Veneer log values were reduced by US$500 per thousand board feet.

Fred Lamb, retired Virginia Tech professor, said, “Some in the engineering disciplines claim that what we do in technology transfer is too ‘subject matter’ oriented and not enough ‘problem-solving’ oriented. Harsher critics say that we ‘teach what we know’ rather than ‘what people need.’ And we justify it by saying they need what we know.”

“An assessment of US and German technology transfer systems concluded ‘Technology transfer remains first and foremost a contact sport’,” he quoted.

Howard N Rosen, US Forest Service, Washington DC, said ethanol production from wood will, in the near term, most likely be feasible in a bio-refinery where other products are produced.

Jim L Bowyer, Dovetail Partners, Inc, Minneapolis, Minnesota, observed: “A combination of environmental initiatives, forest parcelisation and strong currencies within the developed nations has helped to drive interest and investment in fast-growing forest plantations. The bulk of these are in the world’s economically developing regions”.

He said that emerging technologies for converting cellulose to liquid transportation fuels have attracted the interest of governments around the world. This provides potential for new biomass use from natural forests and plantations alike.

Dr Bowyer concluded: “How long-established wood products manufacturing regions will respond to changing realities remains to be seen, but it appears that the future will not belong to the timid”.

Value-added products and services

Steve Lawyer, Wood Components Manufacturers Association, Marietta, Georgia, advised: “Traditional business models focused on production-oriented commodity products and services must give way to value-added products and services – transitioning from standardised to customised products and services and giving customers what they want instead of manufacturing what makes sense for the plant”.

He gave an example of mills which repositioned from predominately furniture markets to building products and cabinet markets.

Chris D Risbrudt, Director, US Forest Service Wood Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, said: “The forest products industry is facing increasing competition from foreign sources, due to their low-cost labour, government-funded health insurance and supportive government policies.

“To survive, and maybe even to prosper, the industry needs some clear thinking about new products and new business models. While constant innovation at the margin is necessary, the greatest opportunities appear to be in chemicals and energy from wood and in understanding and capturing the nano-material characteristics of wood fibres.

“These opportunities can be captured by solid wood manufacturers, composite producers, as well as the pulp and paper industry,” he said.

Privan Perera, Louisiana State University Agriculture Center, Baton Rouge, reported on forest certification perceptions of 500 US home centre retailers. With a 26% response rate, certification/

eco-labelling came up last, behind price, quality, delivery and availability, while Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) trailed Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in their certification preferences.

Laura M Moya, University Of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota studied char from wildfire-burned jack pine and red pine timber and suggested that the salvage would make a promising alternative supply for commercial OSB production, as well as removing it from the burned stand.

Gregory D Smith, University Of British Columbia, Vancouver, reported on a study to improve particleboard core bond strength without increasing resin content or board density. His approach is to redistribute particles of different sizes within the core. To accomplish this, he screened the furnish into four size classes and re-mixed to customised mixes. Redistributing particles of different size classes in uniform density, single-layer boards was found to increase internal bond and edge screw strength.

Joshua P Adams, Mississippi University, predicted that new understanding of molecular processes and recent technology developments holds “great promise” for improving timber and fibre properties in tree species.

He said recent advances in genomics and biotechnology are resulting in a more fundamental understanding of forest species. Increased biomass through accelerated growth, greater nutrient uptake and increased photosynthesis efficiency are current major areas of molecular study.