Wood and Wood Products Special Issues

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Wood and biomass are now regarded as renewable resources that can partially alleviate reliance on petrochemicals for everyday needs and at the same time sequester carbon from the atmosphere to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels. Forests and forest products play a major economic role in the world with global GDP topping US$45 trillion in 2005 (1% of global GDP) and this is projected to reach US$100 trillion by 2030.

Demand for wood and wood products has led to shortages of forest timbers in many countries. Plantation timbers are assuming a higher proportion of the world supply. The quality as much as the quantity is becoming more important. In current wood processing and manufacturing operations, knowledge of wood characteristics and the measurement of those characteristics are essential to ensure optimal utilisation. In order to accurately control the product quality before or during processing, there is a need to have a system which is capable of real-time monitoring of wood properties.

One emerging technology that could fill the gap for wood and wood processing measurements is near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy. It is already being widely utilised to assess the properties of wood and its products. And the most advanced applications for wood have been reported in 17 papers from around the world in a Special Issue of the Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy (J. Near Infrared Spectrosc. Volume 18 No. 6 (2010)).

The advantages that NIR presents are numerous and include low cost per sample, more rapid analysis and the ability to operate in a number of in-field or on-line/at-line environments, hence leading to savings in laboratory cost, gains in product value and improved QC at the processing stage.

Collaborative research by university scientists at the Vienna University of Technology and BOKU University, using funds from the Austrian Science Fund, have investigated the degradation of Spruce wood by brown-rot fungi. This work has shown that the glucomannan sugars and the amorphous (non-crystalline) cellulose are most susceptible to degradation.

French researchers from CIRAD in France have teamed with researchers in Brazil to use NIR to determine the microfibril angle in Eucalyptus hardwood. The microfibril angle, which describes the orientation of the cellulose microfibres in the wood cell wall, is important in understanding the strength and stiffness of wood. Traditionally the measurement of microfibril angle is a slow and labour-intensive analysis so in practical terms this development allows wood scientists rapidly to assess large numbers of trees, which is important in understanding the variation of microfibril angle in large breeding populations.

The generation of “global” applications for analysing wood from around the world is the topic of three papers from the USA and Australia, showing that there is considerable potential for NIR to be applied across the world’s forests with ease.

Not only are applications in forests discussed, but also for quality control of wood products, including solid wood, veneer and oriented-strand board. Again these applications come from around the world, including Japan and both North and South America.

In Australia and New Zealand there is considerable interest in being able to map the changes in wood properties within trees, thereby understanding how variation in wood properties can affect the end-product performance.

Guest editors for this special issue were Dr Roger Meder, once with the New Zealand Forest Research Institute and now with CSIRO Plant Industry Division in Brisbane, Australia; Dr Laurie Schimleck, formerly CSIRO Division of Forestry now at the University of Georgia, USA; and Dr Thanh Trung from FPInnovations-Paprican, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

“The findings just published have immediate application in forests and in wood and wood product production and processing plants across the world,” Dr Meder said.

For example, “The results clearly demonstrate that foresters can now identify individual trees in a breeding programme with wood of higher quality and at an early age in the life of a plantation,” Dr Schimleck stated. “This will lead to more productive forests and less wastage of timbers.”

The Guest Editors believe that the papers in this Special Issue of the Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy contain findings which will help convince more in the forest industry to utilise NIR spectroscopy into their tree and wood product assessment options.

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