Wood products contribute $4.3 million to the Mississippi economy, but weather, insects and other destructive elements destroy one-tenth of the forest products produced each year.
Wood preservatives are used to protect against losses, but there are environmental issues and toxicity problems associated with these products.
An endowment in Mississippi State University's Forest and Wildlife Research Center is assisting with the process of developing eco-friendly wood preservatives. Funded by a land gift from Harold C. and Claire Lucas, the endowment has been used to establish the Lucas Laboratory for Advanced Biodeterioration Research.
Biodeterioration, the natural processes of microorganism activity in wood, often results in what is commonly referred to as wood decay or rot.
"The vision for the laboratory is to be a leading force in the development of environmentally friendly methods for understanding and controlling the biodeterioration of wood products," said Darrel Nicholas, co-director and professor in forest products. "The Lucas Laboratory will use a team approach involving other MSU departments, industry, universities and federal labs to improve methods for preserving wood."
Harold Lucas worked in the wood-preserving industry for many years. As executive vice president of the American Creosote Co., he became familiar with MSU's work in wood preservation.
"Through this endowment, scientists have the resources to study the complex process of wood biodeterioration," said Susan Diehl, co-director and associate professor of forest products. "The result will be better ways to protect wood products."
The lab also will study the positive side of wood decay processes, Diehl added.
"We will be looking at the mechanisms responsible for wood decay for use in converting biomass to fuel and for bio-treatment of contaminated wastewater, air and other emissions from forest product industries," she said.
The lab's educational objectives will be supported by graduate-degree programs within the College of Forest Resources. Research will be focused on understanding wood decomposition and developing faster ways to evaluate wood protection systems.
"Biodeterioration is a natural process that plays an important role in the cycling of nutrients in forest situations," Diehl said. "Unfortunately, this process also takes place in homes and buildings when wood is used as a building material."
To control the process, the researchers at the lab hope to uncover the detailed nature of the microorganisms involved.
"With a better understanding of the diverse microbial community associated with wood decay, we hope to be able to control the process," Diehl said. "Ideally, we would like to be able to stop or slow the process in wood products and speed the process in situations where recycling of nutrients is the goal."