Research puts premium on green forest products

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    The Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) recommends the use of substitute raw materials for the housing, pulp and paper, handicrafts, furniture and wood-related industries to reverse dwindling wood supply, cut down by reckless logging.

    These include coconut wood from senile trees; wood from industrial tree species, rubber wood and agricultural residues such as coconut coir, tobacco stalks, tea leaves, corn stalk and rice straw.

    FPRDI foresters and scientists have studied fiber plants, dye plants, forest woody vines, as well as tree gums, resins, oils and exudates, among others, to help forest-based industries.

    “Because of our name, our work has sometimes been misunderstood by the public, and even by policy makers,” said Dr. Romulo Aggangan, FPRDI director. “During legislative budget hearings, some lawmakers would ask about the relevance of what we do, considering that the country has very little forest cover left, and these have been made off-limits to all kinds of logging. We then have to explain what we do and what we have done so far.”

    A lot and some. Over the years, FPRDI wood anatomists, chemists and forest products engineers have studied the properties and uses of 15 kinds of industrial tree plantation species such as falcata and gmelina.

    Fast-cycle trees grown in plantations are good substitutes to forest timber for construction and many other industrial uses, Aggangan said.

    Many managers in the wood-based industries now understand how to saw, machine, dry, finish and treat these non-forest raw materials, he added.

    Another FPRDI research is the furnace-type lumber dryer.

    “This is like a big oven which can dry natural raw materials fast and right, resulting in quality wooden furniture which don’t shrink or crack, and handicrafts which are not attacked by molds,’’ Aggangan said.

    In 2018, Connor Group, one of the world’s top merchandise-sourcing firms, cited the FPRDI for the furnace-type lumber dryer’s role in raising the quality of Philippine handicraft exports.

    “Another helpful technology is the low-cost wood moisture meter which helps our clients know how much water a piece wood contains,’’ said Aggangan. ‘’This is important to ensure the quality of the finished product.”

    In recent years, the FPRDI has trained entrepreneurs on handmade papermaking, innovated wine barrels from tree plantation species, and developed machines for making engineered bamboo, one of the promising housing materials in the country today.

    It has set up a state-of-the-art processing plant for converting old and unproductive rubberwood into quality furniture – a big help to rubber farmers in Zamboanga Sibugay.

    The FPRDI, a part of the Department of Science and Technology, is studying how to optimize the abaca fiber for making high-end industrial products.

    It is also looking at how to upgrade local bamboo musical instruments, how to make the most of forest woody vines as handicraft raw materials and how to develop fragrances and flavors from forest products.

    The FPRDI runs world-class testing laboratories for furniture, plywood, pulp and paper, Aggangan said.

    The laboratories conduct wood identification, physical and mechanical properties, and biomass energy tests on forest-based and related products.

    “We do so much more than study forest products,’’ said Aggangan. ‘’We look for ways to wisely use many native plants and related natural materials. Much of what we do shows our aim to help protect the planet.”

    For example, some of FPRDI’s research supports the bamboo-based industry and promotes bamboo farming at the same time.

    Putting up more bamboo plantations can help stabilize the earth’s climate by limiting the effects of global warming. More than any other plant, bamboo can absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, decreasing the amount of major cause of global warming, Aggangan said.

    “The same is true with tree plantation species,” he added. “As we do more studies on them, we promote the setting up of more tree farms and the use of products harvested from them, which are known to be effective absorbers of carbon dioxide.”

    FPRDI researchers are looking for more earth-friendly ways of doing things – for example, more energy-efficient sawmilling, drying and machining methods, and less toxic methods of preserving wood.

    “We will continue to work towards the competitiveness of industries while promoting sustainability. They should always go together. No matter how fantastic, scientific innovations will mean nothing if they damage the environment.”