What are the most important recent innovations in wood products?

The U.S. forest products industry has been struggling for over two decades. The rise of electronic media, the globalization of manufacturing, and a declining housing industry have caused significant loss of employment in the industry. Plastic, steel, and hybrid materials have taken significant market share in products that previously were made of wood. However, economic and social changes towards greater environmental awareness and responsibility have the potential of restoring wood to its former position. Innovation is needed that take advantage of wood’s excellent environmental performance and versatility as a material. Some examples are listed.

  • Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT).  CLT is a laminated panel made with solid wood boards that are glued together alternating the direction of their fibers. Its strength and stability enables the possibility to use wood as an environmentally-friendly alternative to concrete and steel construction systems.
  • Biomaterials.  Biobased adhesives to bond together wood composites, and wood plastic composites (WPCs), that combine plastic and cellulose fibers are being developed. Also wood fibers are being used to strengthen structural materials.
  • Nanomaterials. Carbon nanotubes as well as cellulose nanofibers to enhance the strength and durability of diverse products are being developed.
  • Bioenergy. Wood can be used as a source of bioenergy, thus increasing energy independence and improving the environment. Also biofuels can be obtained from forest biomass, which can help replace a significant part of petroleum-based fuels.
  • Wood modification. Thermal modification, acetylation and fufurylation processes can be used to modify wood and improve its durability.