Columns: Value added wood may help reduce impact of rail ties

How about a thermal wood rail road tie which is rot resistant and free of any harmful chemicals?

How about a thermal wood rail road tie which is rot resistant and free of any harmful chemicals?

A recent article in the Logging and Sawmilling Journal describes the many uses of thermal wood.

This is not a new concept. The Vikings used this process to extend the life of their sailing ships and scientific research has been ongoing since the 1930s.

Author George Fullerton describes how New Brunswick’s  Pierre Friolet went through some rough periods to get his business “Thermal Wood Canada” operational.

“The thermal modification process chemically transforms sugars in the wood, makes changes in the physical and chemical properties of the wood and gives lumber a dark appearance as well as making it resistant to decay and attack by wood degrading pests. The process provides greater dimensional stability even in high humidity conditions, which makes it a great choice for outdoor or high humidity conditions.

“Thermally modified wood has gained a good deal of consideration as a green alternative. Because there are no chemicals added during the process, it is enjoying significant popularity with many consumers  in a very diverse market.”

The thermal modification process uses a specially designed kiln developed in Finland where the wood is heated following a precise schedule that effectively cooks the lumber.

As a result the wood becomes denser, and the wood’s natural tendency for swelling and shrinkage due to moisture is significantly reduced.

Because of its rot and decay resistance the wood is finding applications for window and door manufacturing and exterior cladding and decks

The authors describe a wide variety of products that take advantage of the cooking process, like live edge large diameter wood for mantels, dark texture lumber for furniture or cabinets  as well as  a unique plastic clip decking that has no exposed nails or screws.

Friolet has been experimenting with a variety of finishes and ways of altering the texture of the wood for architects and contractors who want to create unique visual effects for high end homes and buildings.

With the anticipated shortfall of saw logs in the B.C. Interior it would be advisable for our lumber industry to consider new value added products and markets to make up for a reduced lumber supply.

This would seem a good business for the Williams Lake area, which could have a long-term impact in phasing out creosoted ties and using the heat generated by the Atlantic power plant to assist in developing a local value added business.

Heat and steam are needed for the thermal wood process both of which are plentiful from the power plant.

This would be a good fit along with the proposed green houses which would only use the heat for a portion of the year.

Because of its slightly less density thermal wood  is not recommended for load bearing applications.

My assumption, this is referring to products like beams and trusses and would not impact rail ties which lay on a  gravel bed.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.