In an effort to prevent the world from running out of timber, Belgian researchers are now looking in the vast wood collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa to find new or forgotten wood species.
By Victor Deklerck
More than ever, wood is one of the most popular building materials worldwide. However, as the need for timber is growing, tropical forests are being depleted of their most valuable specimens. This trend of deforestation has detrimental consequences for ecosystems and even risks continuing until there are no trees left. That is why researchers from the Laboratory of Wood Technology (Ghent University, Belgium) and the Service of Wood Biology (Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium) are now searching for new timber wood species – not in the field, but in a museum!
They believe that by shifting logging practices to alternative timber wood species or by setting-up plantations with new trees in the tropics, the logging pressure on popular timber trees, such as Pericopsis elata (“afrormosia”) and Pterocarpus soyauxii (“African padauk”), in tropical forests could be relieved.
The wood collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa holds over 80,000 samples, ranging from wood blocks and book-shaped samples to complete stem disks. More than 13,000 species can be found in this collection. Hans Beeckman, curator of the wood collection and head of the Service of Wood Biology claims: “This wood collection is a sleeping beauty, there is so much information waiting to be discovered.”
In their quest for new or forgotten timber trees, the researchers analyse one of the most important characteristics of timber – the amount of swelling due to changing moisture content, for example because of rain. The more a wood swells (by absorbing water) and shrinks (when drying out), the higher its risk of cracking, splitting or warping. As recently presented in the journal Holzforschung/Wood Research and Technology, the scientists already managed to determine the swelling of samples of 53 different tropical wood species by analysing photographs before and after an increase in moisture content.
According to the researchers, this technique will allow for a full screening of the wood collection and increase our knowledge of lesser-known or even forgotten timber trees.
Read the original article here:
Victor Deklerck, Tom De Mil, Patrick Kondjo, Hans Beeckman, Joris Van Acker and Jan Van den Bulcke: Sleeping beauties in materials science: unlocking the value of xylarium specimens in search for timbers of the future, 30.05.2019.