New MSU project explores new use for small-diameter trees


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Posted: 7/29/2002


Mississippi State is teaming with an Australian company to locate an engineered-lumber pilot plant on the Starkville campus.

The university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center is working with TimTek, a firm with offices in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, and Clarkesville, Ga., to develop a commercial market for a process the company has developed.

Patented by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, the process makes high-strength engineered lumber from small diameter trees thinned from pine plantations. To form the resin/wood fiber composite, long strands of crushed trees are coated with an exterior-type adhesive and dried before being formed to desired shapes in a specialized steam-injection hot press.

"TimTek's product is a unique, long-fiber structural engineered lumber with uniform, stable and high-strength properties of select-grade sawn timber," said Walter Jarck, the company's Australia director. "It can be produced in lengths and cross sections greater than can be achieved from the largest logs available.

In the past, trees of three-to-eight-inch diameters were used primarily for pulpwood. With a decreased demand in the South for pulpwood, few markets are left for small trees thinned from Mississippi's almost three million acres of plantation pine.

Jarck said the end product of the new process is both economically and environmentally sound.

"The beams and timbers will compete favorably with the engineered products now used in residential and commercial construction as joists, rafters and headers and for other uses where strength and quality are required, he said.

Professors Dan Seale and Terry Sellers Jr. of MSU's department of forest products, received a $1 million grant from the Mississippi Land, Water and Timber Resources Board to bring the technology to the state and provide funds for related infrastructure.

"These funds are provided for innovative projects such as the TimTek/MSU partnership, said Lester Spell, state commissioner of agriculture and commerce and a board member. Spell said the partnership will be beneficial to the state, which currently has 18.6 million acres of forest land, 70 percent of which is owned by private landowners.

Seale said TimTek surveyed universities and industrial partners throughout the United States and Canada to determine the best location for a pilot plant for their new product. The company chose MSU because of its strong composite wood product research program.

"The purpose of the pilot plant is to demonstrate that the new technology will work with small diameter raw materials, Seale said. "Our Forest and Wildlife Research Center will determine the strength values of the product and test it to help gain building code acceptance. We also will demonstrate the new technology to the forest products industry.

Since the process can be incorporated into existing plants, owners of wood processing operations should be able to realize immediate economic benefits. So, too, will landowners.

"We are excited about the opportunities that the TimTek technology will provide for landowners throughout the state and the region, said landowner Larry Jarrett of Pontotoc, current president of the Mississippi Forestry Association.

Forest Products