News Forestry

Hardwoods (broad-leaved tree species) are in great demand for furnishings in houses and homes. New uses, such as in wooden houses, and for textile fibres and liquid biofuels, are expected to rise.

The International Scientific Conference on Hardwood Processing (ISCHP2017) in Lahti, Finland, declared that resources and input are now needed in collaboration between research teams and customers, utilisation of raw materials and design, as well as marketing of products.

Softwoods and hardwoods complement each other in wood building: softwoods are well-suited for structural uses, while hardwoods are good for interior products. The specific properties of the wood make hardwoods unique. However, hardwoods are not appreciated enough in the raw material markets.

“We should grow and use hardwoods as they are, relying on their own benefits and values, and not imitate softwoods. This gives a new vision to the architecture and design of wooden houses, for example”, said Professor Alfred Teischinger from BOKU University (Austria) and Andreas Kleinschmit, innovation and research director at FCBA (France).

Foto: Erkki Oksanen, Luke.

Hardwood product markets are composed of both limited market niches like ornamental items, home utilities and odorants, and large product segments like wood pulp, paperboard, furniture and biofuels. Hardwood utilisation is aimed at expanding and diversifying into modern building with wood and various fields of value-added biorefining for consumer uses and techno-chemical industries. Such biorefinery products include, for example, health-promoting products, textile fibres and liquid fuels for vehicles.

“The value chains and enterprise networks for hardwood utilisation are transforming. They have to develop in order to contribute significantly to novel uses and markets”, according to Professor Urs Buehlmann, from Virginia Tech (USA) and Professor Erkki Verkasalo, from the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke).

Finnish birch is a success story for wood products industries

In Finland, high-quality birch plywood and veneers, and manufacturing of machines and equipment for wood panel industries have created their own chapters in the history of hardwoods.

“We would not have high-quality birch forests or technology champions in the wood panel industries without birch plywood industries. Birch plywood and veneers are among the most valuable wood products that we have and provide success stories in global markets”, indicated Professor Henrik Heräjärvi from the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) and Professor Lauri Rautkari from Aalto University.

Many presentations at ISCPH2017 showed that it is possible to introduce interesting details in building using special hardwoods. They are mainly noble hardwood species from different parts of the world. Finnish curly birch belongs to this category, as well. Thanks to the long-term research, professional forest management and advanced genetic background of tree stock, it may provide a substantial amount of wood for the market during the coming decades.

Hardwoods have a great foothold in the world

Hardwoods are more important in other parts of the world than in Finland. Hardwood species are plentiful, and they have versatile wood properties and end-uses, as well as a wide product palette. Uses of hardwoods vary according to national traditions, cultures and available wood resources. In Europe, hardwoods are used more the further south you go. Incentives have been launched to grow more hardwoods to enhance biodiversity in forests and the landscape.

In North America, a lot of hardwood species grow naturally, and they have been important in furniture and interior uses and in building since the 1800s. Western countries have been importing tropical hardwoods for a long time, followed later by Japan and China, but the idea has been to decrease this use. Hardwood plantations of eucalyptus, acacia and teak species nowadays provide a large supply of timber in tropical and subtropical regions. Globally speaking, using hardwoods as firewood and other fuels continues to play a key role, in developing countries in particular.

ISCHP 2017 conference, held 25–28 September, brought 90 scientists, experts and company representatives from 23 countries to Lahti, Finland. The conference involved 42 scientific spoken and poster presentations and four keynote presentations from invited academic and industry experts, as well as an excursion to two industry plants and a curly birch plantation.

This was the sixth hardwood conference in the series, which has been running for ten years now. The Biomass-based Business and Industry unit from Luke had the pleasure of organising this conference, with support from the UEF Master’s Degree Programme in Wood Materials Science and Aalto University’s Wood Material Science and Technology group.