Thanks to Grant Kirker for writing this fascinating look back into Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) history and science. Kirker is a Research Forest Products Technologist at FPL in the Durability and Wood Protection Research unit.
Throughout its 110-year history, FPL has participated in groundbreaking wood research both nationally and internationally. The FPL research libraries contain a virtual treasure trove of information pertaining to the wise use of wood and wood-based materials. Historical overviews like this would not be possible without them.
One of the earliest endeavors at the newly established Forest Products Laboratory, then located at 1509 University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin, was the testing of preservative treated wood for the expanding railroad sector in the US. The swift growth of railways across the country had created a huge demand for suitable hardwoods. But high decline rates due to wood rot fungi was a constant concern leading to an unreasonable amount of wood being used to replace rapidly rotting railroad ties. The dawn of wood preservation research at FPL was aimed at increasing the service life of rail ties to reduce the demand on America’s forests.
As the public focuses more on climate change and sustainability solutions, the numbers and facts can be staggering, nearly crippling to think about. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, and our fish seem to be drowning in plastic instead of thriving under the sea. A June 2020, National Geographic article that projected 600 million metric tons of plastic waste in the ocean by 2040 if global plastic habits don’t change.
Hearing these projections and statistics can be discouraging and scary.
But fear not, people like Forest Products Laboratory’s (FPL)Ron Sabo and his team of researchers are looking up the mountain, seeing the goal of a sustainable-eco-plastic future at the top and taking on the challenge with the diligent steps needed to make that future a reality.
The updated EPDs cover a diverse selection of wood products: lumber, plywood, oriented strand board, laminated veneer lumber, I-joists, glue-laminated timber, and redwood lumber.
EPDs aren’t just arbitrary labels slapped onto wood products—they offer a transparent and straight-forward way to understand the potential and overall environmental impact of a wood product, starting from its harvesting and ending at its usage, its cradle-to-gate profile. Industry-wide EPDs also include a permanent carbon sequestration calculation that can be balanced against the amount of carbon emitted during manufacture.
A tenacious fungus, a conspiracy theory, a historic ship, a unique gift from Princeton University, and two Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researchers, Grant Kirker and Samuel Zelinka, collaborating with researchers from Germany and Canada all converged in the right order of events to produce some of the most significant advances in wood salt damage understanding in over twenty years.