The first day of summer marked the opening of the European Panel Federation’s (EPF) annual General Assembly in Paris this year – a fact which could hardly go unnoticed by the delegates.

It is a tradition of the city that free concerts are held in several locations on this night, June 21, and those staying at the General Assembly hotel in the Place de la République were treated to an open air concert in the square by rock group Oasis.

The ‘performers’ presenting the papers to the delegates the following morning were perhaps less famous, but interesting.

The General Assembly, hosted this year by the French panel association, UIPP, marked the end of the first year in existence of the EPF, successor to the FESYP and EMB organisations for particleboard and MDF.

It also marked the launch of the second edition of the EPF’s excellent Annual Report – for 1999-2000 – which contains statistics, technical and environmental information, as well as other data and contacts.

President of the EPF and managing director of Belgian panel maker Unilin, Frans de Cock, summarised the federation’s activities, saying: “We have achieved a lot during our first operational year. The federation organised research projects on the competitiveness of the EU wood based panel industries and on the impact of the EU white paper on Renewable Energy Sources. Besides that, EPF also organised the second European Wood Based Panels Symposium in September 1999.”

Several technical research projects were also launched such as one on a new test method for the rapid determination of the formaldehyde emission potential of wood based panels, said Mr de Cock.

Lobbying is another important role of the federation. “The EPF plays a very active role in the European Committee for Standardisation where it took over the secretariat of the working group ‘particleboard and fibreboards’,” said the president. “As another example of lobbying activity, I can inform you that nearly all combustion installations on wood will probably be exempted from the new EU Directive on the incineration of waste.”

Among other major issues currently being addressed by the EPF, said Mr de Cock, are the defining of biomass, biofuels and waste; the recycling of wood; forest certification; wood dust; the Kyoto protocols on CO2 emissions; renewable energies; and eco-labelling.

“I am very pleased to report now on the positive economic performance of this industry sector [in 1999],” continued Mr de Cock. He pointed out that the European wood based panels industry produced approximately 45.5 million m³ of panels, with particleboard accounting for the largest proportion at 72%, while MDF represented 16%, OSB 2%, plywood 6% and wet process fibreboard 4%.

Within these figures, MDF and OSB both realised two digit growth rates in 1999, he said.

According to EPF figures, there are about 200 particleboard plants in Europe with total production of almost 33 million m³ – 2% up on 1998 overall, with quite marked national and regional differences in performance.

Particleboard imports fell to 7.1 million m³, while exports rose 5% to nine million m³. Capacity expansion plans, amounting to 11% over the next few years, have been announced.

For MDF, sales in Europe in 1999 totalled around 6.8 million m³, up on the 1998 record by some 11%, reported Mr de Cock. When exports are included, total production was 7.1 million m³ and capacity increases of 15% in the next few years have been announced.

For the relatively new product, OSB, production rose to around one million m³ in 1999 – up 25% on 1998. “This increase was wholly due to a higher utilisation rate in the existing plants since no new capacity expansions took place in 1999,” said Mr de Cock, adding: “During 2000, capacity is expected to rise by 66% with one plant in France and another in Germany entering the production stage. In the next few years, the production capacity of OSB could more than double, to exceed four million m³ by the year 2004.”

Mr de Cock also reported on the results of a competitiveness study of the EU woodworking industries in which EPF participated, which analysed qualitative and quantitative competitiveness.

“The key opportunity to improve the competitiveness of the wood based panels industries is the establishment of a wood promotion strategy in Europe,” he said. “The EPF will continue to work together with the European Commission to communicate the basic message that wood, unlike almost all other raw materials, is a renewable and environmentally friendly material.”

Another important area of endeavour for the EPF has been in the CE marking of wood based panels for use in construction. This is designed to result in a level playing field for the industry on a single European market for construction products, says the EPF.

Expected to start in 2001, CE marking for panels will show compliance with legislation rather than being a quality standard, as such, and is a requirement of the European Construction Products Directive (CPD).

“The EPF played a very active role in the development of the harmonised standard for wood based panels for use in construction,” said Mr de Cock. “This resulted in the fact that it is an explanatory document for both the manufacturer and the user and that it contains substantial simplifications for the CE marking requirements for the manufacturer.”

The EPF voluntary standard on the use of recycled wood was also agreed in March this year to ensure the products made from this increasingly popular raw material are “as safe as toys”.

Guest speaker Madame Anne Barrillon, representing the French ministry of agriculture and fisheries, spoke of the devastation to French forests wrought by the storms at the end of last year. She said a total of around 140 million m³ of timber were affected by windfall.

As a result of actions taken since the storms, a new law has been enacted in France, said Ms Barrillon, with two main pillars: the sustained development of the forest from an environmental and economic standpoint; and the enabling of increased competitiveness in the forestry sector.

Claude Roy, the director of agriculture and bioenergy at ADEM, a French agency for the environment and energy control, spoke of wood as “definitely a material of the future”, being the only renewable raw material and one which is made with the sequestration of carbon.

Mr Roy said his organisation is involved in international cooperation in four key sectors: waste management, pollution abatement, energy saving and renewable energy and material promotion.

“We want to increase the wood market share in building by 25% with our WEB plan, which means Wood, Environment, Building,” he said. “That is equivalent to four million m³ per year more wood in use in the building sector.”

Mr Roy is also involved in the European Renewable Raw Material Association (ERRMA) dealing with bio-fuels and bio-additives for fuels.

Pointing out that it was not just wood which had to be considered in making environmentally friendly products, he encouraged resin suppliers to cooperate and “explore some promising paths” in vegetable based glues, resins and coatings.

On the subject of resins, Mr Andrew Markessini, managing director of ACM Wood Chemicals, spoke to the assembly on ‘Resins of the future: the continuing evolution of resins for wood based panels’.

He pointed out that formaldehyde-based resins, mainly as urea formaldehyde, have been the most important type of adhesive for wood based panel production since the 1920s and today account for 60% of the North American, and 85% of the European markets.

Designated as a possible carcinogen in 1978, formaldehyde has a negative image, he said, although research since has proved the original contention to be wrong. Reduction of formaldehyde/urea molar ratios and the creation of formaldehyde catchers and the enforcement of stringent regulation regarding formaldehyde emissions in many European countries, as well as other studies and statements have helped, said Mr Markessini.

“Today in Europe the problem of formaldehyde emissions from wood based panels is regarded as fully solved,” he said. “I believe it is important that all of us in this industry keep putting this message forward whenever we can. The facts are on our side and the industry has done its part,” he continued. “Some negative impressions of formaldehyde still exist and we need to help correct this.”

Mr Markessini outlined some recent developments in resins from natural and renewable resources.

One such material is lignin-modified PF (phenol formaldehyde) resin which he said has been used to replace as much as 35% of the phenol in modified PF resins in the US.

“One German company has developed a tannin-based adhesive for use in marine grade OSB. Tannin extracts from radiata pine bark, mimosa and quebracho are currently being used successfully in Chile and Australia for particleboard, MDF and OSB.

“Transformation of wood, forest residues and other biomass to a liquid called pyrolysis oil or bio-oil has shown promise in partially replacing phenol in the production of modified PF resins, replacing up to 50% by pyrolysis oil,” he said.

Another new technology is being developed in North America to produce an OSB-type barkboard, reported the speaker. “This uses high temperature and pressure to exploit the bark’s inherent phenolic compounds to bond the particles,” he explained.

“Increased competition and cost pressure is leading to resin diversification and the manufacturing of tailor-made end products,” said Mr Markessini. These trends include faster resin systems, improving moisture resistance and new products with special resin needs, such as flooring grade HDF, ultra-light MDF, V313 and V100 moisture resistant particleboard and fire resistant MDF and particleboard.

Mr Markessini reported three main developments by ACM: colourless OSB using a special melamine-urea-phenol-formaldehyde (MUPF) resin and an adapted hardener, which avoids using PMDI resin; UF bonded strawboard, again replacing PMDI; and substitution of phenol in PF resins. In this latter area, ACM is aiming for total replacement and has so far replaced up to 50% of the phenol through “appropriate modification of extracts from various natural products”.

Winding up the open part of the assembly, Kari Simolin of Valmet Panelboard gave a fascinating insight into the possible future for ‘Automation in modern panelboard plants’.

He cited the rapidly increasing sophistication of internet technology, the use of global positioning systems with devices embedded in an increasing number of appliances, Smart Sensor technology for faster and better control and fast developing camera technology. In what until recently would have sounded like science fiction, ‘Intelligent materials’ will have inexpensive sensors embedded in the material – maybe even in steel belts, predicted Mr Simolin.

To find out more about the EPF, and wood based panels in general, why not try the EPF’s new website on [].