Wood is highly appreciated and used for construction, furniture design and increasingly also for the production of clothes and other everyday objects due to its special material, appealing aesthetics and the sense of warmth portrayed by it. As such, it is expected that the global demand for timber will only increase in the future. But how can we integrate timber, and timber applications by extent, into a sustainable world?
Over 300 scientists from more than 30 countries gathered last week in Nagoya (Japan) for the 61st SWST (Society of Wood Science and Technology) International Convention in cooperation with the Japan Wood Research Society and the Nagoya University. The theme of this year, ‘Era of Sustainable World – Tradition and Innovation for Wood Science and Technology’, highlights the relationship between wood and the increasing need for a sustainable environment. Several keynote speakers from different areas of expertise kicked off the meeting and provided interesting insights on how to move sustainability in timber research to a next level. Dr. Akira Isogai (Tokyo University) introduced new bio-based nanomaterials that could aid towards a sustainable future. Dr. Hans Joachim Blaß (Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie, Germany) presented new advances in cross-laminated timber structures, portraying the special role timber plays in construction. The topical circular economy approach and the relationship with wood science was emphasized by Dr. Andreja Kutnar (InnoRenew CoE, Slovenia). Finally, Dr. Yves Weinand (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland) showed new and innovative timber structures, justifying and explaining the increase in timber demand and use.
Over the course of the meeting different topics, ranging from, ‘Biorefinery & Bioeconomy’ to ‘Mass Timber & Structures’ sparked our interest and demonstrated the multi-disciplinary nature of wood science and technology. The ‘Wood in Health & Wellness’ session indicated that wood has multiple health advantages, ranging from lowering stress and noise, to even anti-cancerous properties of seed residue from timber trees. Dr. Zhiyong Cai (U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, USA) showed the potential of cellulose nanofibrils towards renewable energy harvesting in the ‘Wood Chemistry’ session, moving the discussion on the role of wood in the energy debate beyond bioenergy production.
Two other important aspects worth considering when talking about wood sustainability are the life cycle assessments and supply chains of timber products. Munkaila Musah (Michigan Technological University, USA) presented a poster illustrating the life cycle assessment of Kiln-Dried Northern Hardwood in CLT production, while Honmai Gu (U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, USA) focussed more on the life cycle cost for Mid-rise CLT buildings in the USA. In another poster, Paula Fallas Valverde (Virginia Tech, USA) developed a mathematical model based on supplier selection and assessment criteria to reduce waste in the wood fibre supply chain. Next to seasoned scientists, early stage researchers had the opportunity to present their research in short oral presentations and poster format. To me, it was heartening to see so many young scientists join the wood community. This would not have been possible without the support of SWST and Victoria Herian (Executive Director, SWST), who enabled young researchers to attend the conference by offering travel grants.
Of course, sustainability starts at the basis, and the timber source plays an important role here. Illegal logging and related trade are a threat to sustainable forest management by causing deforestation and biodiversity loss. Furthermore, they effect the livelihood of the people living in and/or from the forest and lead to lost revenue that may have been generated from legal logging of forests. Thus, we need innovative tools for species identification and for determining the geographic origin of wood to verify trade claims.
Two posters were presented focussing on the identification of timber species, either through deep learning of Near-Infrared hyperspectral images (Hideaki Kanayama, Nagoya University, Japan) or using Near-Infrared Spectroscopy as a tool to assist in the identification of Dalbergia CITES-listed species from Madagascar (Tahiana Ramananantoandro, Université d’Antananarivo, Madagascar). In his talk on Wednesday, Sung-Wood Hwang (Kyoto University, Japan) explained an innovative way of identifying Lauraceae species by applying a bag-of-features model on wood anatomical slices. In the same session, Kayoko Kobayashi (Kyoto University, Japan) demonstrated a deep learning model based on wood anatomical features for the species identification of hardwood.
As timber demand increases globally, we have to evaluate how to embed this in a sustainable way of living. Effective methods for timber species identification are indispensable and need to be optimized if we want to create a sustainable pathway. The SWST meeting in Nagoya (Japan) provided a unique opportunity to connect with other researchers and share the latest developments in wood science, timber applications and timber identification methodologies. Moreover, it served as a platform to broaden the debate towards different actors (scientific community, industry, policy makers and others) and to extend the support of timber species identification activities. The next meeting is taking place in the beautiful Yosemite National Park (California, USA – 20 to 25 October 2019), where more interesting talks and discussions will follow. See you there!
This article was kindly provided by Victor Deklerck, PhD student at the Laboratory of Wood Technology (Ghent University, Belgium) and scientific expert for GTTN.