Right Up Our Alley: Laminated Wood Bowling Pins

FPL made national news in 2008 and 2011 when Research General Engineer Dave Kretschmann and his team became known for their work with Major League Baseball and the perplexing problem of breaking baseball bats. But did you know that FPL’s foray into sports goes back much farther than our work with baseball?

These photos, taken from the FPL library’s history room, show various experiments on laminated bowling pins. The genesis of these pins came from a conscientious desire to preserve our forests.

A January 1, 1920, Technical Publication,Fabrication and Design of Glued Laminated Wood Structural Members, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tells of the earnest Assistant Director of the Forest Products Laboratory at that time who “asserted that it would be possible to save ten billion feet of timber annually, if the American people would put in general practice what is already known relative to the closer utilization and preservation of wood.”

In an attempt to preserve what virgin forest remained, experiments began in 1912 to create bowling pins of laminated construction. Athletic goods, according to this publication, “require but a small number of woods for their manufacture. Special qualities are necessary, however, to meet the requirements of these products.”

These photos show special strength tests that resulted in standards that are still adhered to these days, according to the United States Bowling Congress and its USBC Equipment Specifications and Certifications Manual: “Gluing procedures should conform to those described in the Forest Products Laboratory (U.S. Department of Agriculture) manual entitled ‘Fabrication and Design of Glued Laminated Wood Structural Members.’”

So when you’re knocking back a few sodas or beers and knocking down those pins at the bowling alley, just remember that FPL and utilization of our forest resources helped make your pleasure possible.

Wood Specific Gravity: Variation with Height, Implications for Biomass

The specific gravity (SG) of wood is a measure of the amount of structural material a tree species allocates to support and strength. Wood SG has traditionally been a forester’s index of wood properties. In recent years, however, wood SG has been increasingly measured by ecologists exploring the functional traits of plants and by conservationists estimating global carbon stocks. While these developments have expanded our knowledge and sample of woods, the methodologies employed to measure wood SG have not received as much scrutiny as SG’s ecological importance.

In the recently published Wood Specific Gravity Variation With Height And Its Implications For Biomass Estimation, Michael Wiemann and G. Bruce Williamson demonstrate a nondestructive method of accurately estimating SG and subsequently determining woody biomass in standing trees. The authors accomplished this by determining wood SG in the field, a feat that hasn’t always been easy.

Wiemann says, “On?site measure­ments provide true values, eliminating potential biases from geographic variation and nonrandom samples in databases. However, determining SG in the field is time consuming and difficult because wood samples must be obtained by fell­ing trees or extracting cores.”

Historically, felling trees was widely employed by foresters, but in the mid?1800s Max Pressler invented the increment borer. To­day, extracting cores is generally preferable to felling trees as conservation and ongoing research demand a nondestruc­tive sampling methodology. In the report, the authors propose a method to estimate whole tree SG when complete tree harvest is impractical or impossible.


Cross sections from an Acer saccharum (sugar maple) from Wisconsin, showing change in shape, size, and stem integrity with height. Borer is on the right.

New Research Shows Markets and Timing Matter When Accounting for Biogenic Carbon

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) has published “Forest Carbon Accounting Considerations in US Bioenergy Policy” in the Journal of Forestry. The article, which was authored by an SAF-sponsored team comprised of some of the US’s leading forest carbon experts (including FPL Research Forester Ken Skog), identifies and examines scientific-based insights essential to understanding forest bioenergy and “carbon debts.”


FPL’s Ken Skog is an author on the Journal of Forestry article.

As noted by Reid Miner, the lead author and chair of the SAF team, the article’s insights, which are built on a comprehensive review of the most current literature, illustrate why quantifying the full spectrum of forest-based activities is critical when accounting for biogenic carbon and carbon dioxide, and why policymakers should consider that:

– Even while the greenhouse-gas benefits of sustainable forest biomass energy are sometimes delayed, it is well established that these benefits are substantial over the long term.

– The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that peak global temperature is likely to be determined by long-term cumulative CO2 emissions, and that forest-based energy and products help limit cumulative CO2 emissions.

– An accurate comparison of the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy with those of other energy sources requires the use of consistent timeframes in the comparison.

– Landowner responses to increased wood demand can have a significant influence on the carbon impacts of forest biomass energy.

The release of this article comes as a number of groups await the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Accounting Framework for Biogenic Carbon Emissions, following a three-year deferral to examine the issue. Dr. Roger Sedjo, a member of both the SAF team and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) said, “I was concerned about the complexity of the SAB recommendations that resulted from our discussions, and was also uncertain whether the SAB process captured the importance of market dynamics, including the effects of markets on forest investment levels. The magnitude and timing of benefits from use of forest bioenergy depends upon availability of markets for wood products. This article clearly shows how influential markets are as we consider how forest biomass factors into our energy future.” Sedjo also noted that timing of carbon benefits is often misrepresented in current literature—something that is also addressed in this article.

University of Washington scientist Dr. Elaine Oneil added, “In the West, reducing forest biomass density is an effective means of stemming the threat of large-scale intensive wildfires. Generally, the non-merchantable residues from thinning projects are burned on site to reduce fire risk and improve forest health. Utilizing residues to produce biomass energy, instead of burning them in the forest, returns carbon to the atmosphere at the same time as burning residues on site without energy recovery, so the net impact of energy production on biogenic carbon emissions is essentially zero and the benefits from using residues for energy are immediate. However, these benefits are not possible without markets for these residues.”

North Carolina State Professor Dr. Robert Abt was impressed by the SAF team’s work, which represents different disciplines and regions of the country. “The study provides a comprehensive review of the science surrounding wood bioenergy and carbon emissions. Unlike many discussions, it recognizes the economic relationships among wood bioenergy uses, forest harvests, and forest investments by providing a review of both the theoretical rationale and the empirical evidence of the effect of an increase in wood demand on forest carbon. The literature demonstrates that increased demand for wood bioenergy can lead not only to increased harvests, but also to increased forest investments, which provide offsetting forest growth and associated offsetting increases in forest carbon.”

FPL to Play Key Role in Innovative Biomass Research: $5.8 Million Federal Grant Awarded to Humboldt State University

Humboldt State University (HSU), along with 15 regional partners including the Forest Products Laboratory, has received a $5.88 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct innovative biomass research.

The grant is part of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, a collaborative effort between the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture that supports renewable energy research in the rural United States.

FPL economist Ted Bilek will lead the economic life cycle analysis group.

Under the grant, a team of scholars, industry partners and forestland managers led by HSU forestry professor Han-Sup Han will build on existing research for converting forest residues into renewable fuel and other valuable bio-based products. Forest residues include limbs, treetops and other materials left on the forest floor after timber harvesting. Often considered waste material and not effectively used, forest residues are an undervalued source of potential bioenergy. Strategic use of woody biomass has the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and promote economic development in rural America.

The grant will allow research teams comprising investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and private sector partners to address technical challenges and make bioenergy technologies more marketable. The three research areas will be feedstock (processed forest residues) supply, mobile conversion technologies, and economic life-cycle analysis.

Ted Bilek, an economist at the Forest Products Laboratory, will lead the economic life-cycle analysis group. Bilek’s team will conduct a life-cycle analysis documenting the economic benefits and other environmental effects related to using forest residues.

“It’s not enough that the technologies work and produce energy,” Bilek says. “They also need to be economically viable, socially acceptable, and environmentally sustainable. These are the focuses of our group. Our research will also help to highlight areas that offer the greatest potentials to improve returns and to ensure long-term sustainability.”

The grant is titled Waste to Wisdom: Utilizing forest residues for the production of bioenergy and bioproducts. Research partners include: Green Diamond Resource Company, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, USFS Forest Products Lab, Redwood Forest Foundation, Forest Concepts LLC, Steve Morris Logging, Peterson Pacific Corp., Biochar Solutions Inc., Pellet Fuels Institute and the Forest Business Network LLC.

Distinguished Scientist Award Goes to FPL Researcher

JunYong Zhu, research general engineer at the Forest Products Laboratory, was recently presented with the Forest Service Deputy Chief’s Distinguished Science Award.

FPL Researcher JunYong Zhu

FPL Researcher JunYong Zhu

Jimmy Reaves, Deputy Chief of Research and Development, awarded Zhu the honor for his “sustained productivity and scientific excellence in creating innovative market-based solutions for the utilization of low-value forest-based biomass.”  Reaves went on to say Zhu is “a credit to the Forest Service and the larger research community.”

The award is a special honor for Zhu, a new immigrant to the United States and whose parents were farmers with little education. “I am very grateful for the education I received that equipped me with life learning skills,” said Zhu. “This can only happen in America.”

Zhu is also quick to thank those who have helped him along the way. “I am grateful for the many great people, including collaborators, visiting scientists, and scholars, who diligently contributed to my research program,” Zhu added.

“We are proud of JY’s work and his great public service as we strive to make our forests healthy, sustainable and more resilient to disturbances,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station.

Interestingly, Zhu’s education and background is not in wood science, but rather mechanical and aerospace engineering. He is now firmly rooted in the world of wood, however, with current research focusing on using undervalued materials, such as beetle-killed trees, for biofuel and nanocellulose production, as well as fundamental research on cell wall deconstruction.