The future for wood preservation looks very bright indeed! We are already seeing many new wood substitutes for solid treated wood, including engineered wood composites like wood-plastic composites and products such as preserved oriented strandboard (OSB), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), and parallel strand lumber (PSL.) All of these products will need to use both new and existing preserving technologies to prevent the colonization by decay organisms, and infestation by wood-destroying insects. Even wood-plastic composites, which are still 40 to 60 percent wood fiber, will need to incorporate active biocides to insure that they will be long-term useful building materials. Evaluation of wood-plastic composites already in service has found that those without biocide incorporation have exhibited both mold and fruiting bodies after exterior exposure. Many new methods of wood preservation will include innovative processes. We have just begun the possibility of modifying wood properties to perform such needed tasks as dimensional stability to minimize the effects of moisture and moisture-temperature changes. Dimensional stability has long been the holy grail of wood treatments and will likely continue to be so into the future. A few of the new processes (e.g., supercritical fluid treatment) will allow us to broach the physical and mechanical limitations of treating with conventional liquid treatments by exploring the nearly limitless possibilities of treating with a liquid that penetrates a substrate like a gas, or using vapor phase technology to impregnate wood with a diffusible product, like boron, without significantly altering the dimensional properties of the wood. The public perception of potential arsenic exposure is having an effect, but as long as arsenical chemistry is allowed for wood preservation, we will continue to see research that focuses on possible methods of minimizing leaching of arsenic into the environment. Recently, we have also begun to see environmental pressure on benign elements, like copper. Copper-based pesticides have begun to experience some environmental pressure in certain areas of the world due to aquatic toxicity, although copper continues to be the most widely used fungicide in the world for protection of both wood and agricultural crops. Professionals in the field of wood preservation feel that copper-based preservation technology will continue to be dominant for water-based treatment for at least another decade, but the development and use of all-organic biocides continue to be of interest to all those in wood preservation research.
Modern wood preservation is barely two centuries old. Wood, being the most versatile building material that has ever been utilized, will continue to need protection from degrading factors, like decay, insects, and fire. Significant growth in this industry has been seen in every single decade since Bethell originally impregnated timber with creosote in the 1830s. The use of newer process technologies holds promise for new wood preservatives, and breaks ground for modern advances in commercial production plants, and innovation in research opportunities. There is an increasing need to educate the consumer regarding new wood-treating chemistries and new products. By December 31, 2003, the voluntary cancellation of arsenically treated wood for residential and consumer use in the United States and Canada will take effect. These products will likely be replaced by more expensive preservative systems. Therefore, while the actual volume of wood being treated may decrease due to product substitution (e.g., plastics), total market dollar volume will increase because the new alternatives are more expensive. A recent survey showed that most of the southern pine lumber produced in the United States is pressure-treated with wood preservative compounds. The widespread use of wood preservatives greatly extends the life of wood products and allows us to reduce the environmental impact of cutting more forestland. The old forest products saying of “conserve the forests by preserving the wood” can sometimes best summarize it.
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