The Wood Handbook’s Enduring International Appeal

The Wood Handbook – Wood as an Engineering Material is the Forest Products Laboratory’s most popular publication. From Anchorage to Key West, thousands of Americans download all or part of the Wood Handbook every month. Just as impressive is the international scope of interest in this instructive tome.


The Wood Handbook – A global wood resource.

The graphic here demonstrates the Wood Handbook’s enduring international appeal. For a full size version visit the FPL Flickr page. The island nation of Malyasia provides a strong audience as do the wood enthusiasts of western Europe, northern Asia, and the Middle East. Canada and Scandinavian countries, well known for vibrant timber industries, and South America also show strong interest in wood as an engineering material.

Citizens from about 180 nations worldwide have downloaded all or part of the Wood Handbook over the past 4.5 years for a total of 713,006 downloads. A Centennial Edition was published in 2010 with a popular new introductory chapter: Wood as a Sustainable Building Material.

Set Free the Cellulose! Enhancing Biorefinery Economics through Ionic Liquid Pretreatment

As the most abundant biopolymers on earth, cellulose and lignin form the building blocks for trees and other plants. For centuries the durable, renewable benefits of wood have helped provide shelter and energy for people across the globe. Using trees such as Loblolly pine and other lignocellulosic biomass like wheat straw and Miscanthus – as renewable, plentiful, non-food and non-petroleum resources – can help reduce dependence on oil products by supplementing traditional gasoline supplies with liquid biofuels.


Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at FPL

One of the biggest challenges of converting wood-to-energy is releasing the sugars within the lignin itself. Daniel Yelle, a research forest products technologist at the Forest Products Laboratory says lignin is recalcitrant, meaning it does not break down very easily. Yelle has been working with a team of researchers to unlock the recalcitrant nature of lignin in an effort to improve refinery efficiencies in the production process for advanced biofuels. Their research has been published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry.

Higher plants such as trees, says Yelle, contain cell walls that are rich in lignin and complex sugars – polysaccharides like cellulose. However, cellulose is naturally entrapped in a matrix of lignin. Cellulose is the ideal biopolymer for biofuel production, says Yelle, “because of its simplistic long-chain glucose structure” but the separation of the cellulose from its lignin counterpart typically involves harsh chemical pretreatments. These chemicals may release the cellulose to a certain degree but, says Yelle, “make the remaining lignin even more recalcitrant.” Overcoming pretreatment barriers would help make the biochemical conversion process more efficient and thus more appealing for commercial renewable energy interests.

Yelle and colleagues’ research analyzes lignin following an ionic liquid pretreatment. Ionic liquids, says Yelle, are used to more easily dissolve the lignin that directly surrounds the desired polysaccharides. The non-toxic and recyclable ionic liquid used in this study, says Yelle, was able to more effectively disrupt the lignin, allowing for its extraction in a more native-state, as compared to previous pretreatment strategies. The subsequent use of enzymes to breakdown the polysaccharides into simple sugars is thus more effective. Furthermore, says Yelle, the size of the lignin polymer that is removed can be customized and routed into different product streams and help improve biorefinery economics.


Above, a representation of the ionic liquid pretreatment process for converting biomass to sugars suitable for manufacturing liquid biofuels.

National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge Grants to Support Climate Resilience and Green Infrastructure

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the 2014 USDA Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grant recipients. Grants provide funding to help enhance urban forest stewardship, support new employment opportunities, and help build resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Supervisory Microbiologist Carol Clausen briefs Secretary Vilsack on FPL’s Moisture Test Facility.

Supervisory Microbiologist Carol Clausen talks with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack during a 2013 visit to the Forest Products Laboratory.

“Our urban and community forests provide clean water, clean air, energy conservation and other important benefits for the health and economic well-being of communities across the country,” said Vilsack. “The grants announced today will help catalyze investment and strengthen stewardship of our urban forests to maintain their many contributions amid new risks from climate change.”

Well maintained urban forests can help address climate and extreme weather impacts through reducing runoff, buffering high winds, controlling erosion, and minimizing the impacts of drought. Urban forests also provide critical social and cultural benefits that may strengthen community resilience to climate change through promoting social interaction and community stability.

Grant recipient announcements were made in connection with the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and support the plan’s objectives of maintaining the role of forests in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing communities for the impacts of a changing climate.

The 2014 grant recipients are:

Category 1: Making Urban Trees and Forests More Resilient to the Impacts of Natural Disasters and the Long-term Impacts of Climate Change

University of Florida, Mobile Tree Failure Prediction for Storm Preparation and Response;

Federal Grant Amount: $281,648

This proposed modeling system will assist urban forest managers in predicting tree failure during storms by developing a data collection model and a mobile Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping application to quantify tree risk in communities. The results and a best management practices manual will be made available to all researchers and professionals through the International Tree Failure Database, providing the standardized data needed to enhance our understanding of wind-related tree failure.

Category 2: Green Infrastructure Jobs Analysis

Jobs for the Future, Jobs for the Future Green Infrastructure Jobs Analysis

Federal Grant Amount: $175,000

Jobs for the Future will conduct a labor market analysis that will build a business case for important green infrastructure investments in our communities. This will include strategies for expanding green infrastructure job growth in both the private and public sectors.

Category 3: Utilizing Green Infrastructure to Manage and Mitigate Stormwater to Improve Water Quality

University of South Florida, From Gray to Green: Tools for Transitioning to Vegetation-Based Stormwater Management

Federal Grant Amount: $149,722

Many communities lack systematic strategies to transition from the existing conventional (gray) drainage systems to green infrastructure. This project will provide natural resource managers, planners, and engineers with decision-support tools to aid the strategic planning process for transitioning to green infrastructure systems that emphasize trees and urban forests.

University of Tennessee, Storm Water Goes Green: Investigating the Benefit and Health of Urban Trees in Green Infrastructure Installations

Federal Grant Amount: $200,322

The contribution of trees to storm water management is not well understood. Project will demonstrate the role of trees in bio retention areas and provide recommendations regarding system design and tree species selection to maximize bio retention area functionality and tree health.

Center for Watershed Protection, Making Urban Trees Count: A Project to Demonstrate the Role of Urban Trees in Achieving Regulatory Compliance for Clean Water Research

Federal Grant Amount: $103,120

Project will assist storm water managers with how to “credit” trees for runoff and pollutant load reduction in order to compare with other best management practices. A proposed design specification model for urban tree planting will address crediting, verification, cost-effectiveness, and tree health.

Senator Baldwin Joins the Call to Reform Wildfire Funding

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has joined a bipartisan call to reform wildfire funding in a recent letter to congressional leaders.


Senator Baldwin, with FPL Assistant Director Mike Ritter (left) and Director Michael T. Rains during a 2014 tour of the lab.

Announced on Senator Baldwin’s blog, the call supports the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act which would support the timber and paper industry in Wisconsin and elsewhere by ending “fire borrowing.”

Fire borrowing occurs when funds normally available to the Forest Service for basic operations are diverted to fight wildland fires, typically in the summer season.

Such borrowing, Baldwin’s letter states, “has resulted in substantially decreased resources that would normally be used to complete timber contracts, install ecological restoration projects, and conduct research at the Northern Research Station. Fire borrowing also hurts critical research conducted at the Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory, which is developing innovative uses the for the type of wood that often fuels our fiercest wildfires.”


Characteristics and Availability of Commercially Important Woods

“Throughout history, the unique characteristics and abundance of wood have made it a natural material for homes and other structures, furniture, tools, vehicles, and decorative objects. Today, for the same reasons, wood is prized for a multitude of uses.”

So begins Wood Handbook’s Chapter Two: Characteristics and Availability of Commercially Important Woods by Michael C. Wiemann, a research botanist at FPL.


FPL botanist Michael Wiemann

Variations in the characteristics and proportions of the building blocks of wood – primarily cellulose, lignin, and hemicelluloses – make woods “heavy or light, stiff or flexible, and hard or soft” writes Wiemann. To use wood most effectively in engineering applications, “specific characteristics or physical properties must be considered.”

Chapter Two covers timber resources and uses, describing the roughly 100 species available in the U.S. and 30 species commonly imported in the form of logs, cants, lumber, and veneer for industrial uses, building trade, and crafts.

A comprehensive Scientific Name Index – including latin and common names – is also available in Chapter Two, starting on page 2-41. The full index lists domestic and imported hardwood and softwood species names.