AHEC throws spotlight on thermally modified American hardwoods at Dubai WoodShow, noting potential for turning a select few non-durable hardwood species used for interiors into a material than can be used outside, even in high-moisture environments
April 10, 2014
(Islamic Finance News)
– The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), the leading international trade association for the American hardwood industry, has thrown the spotlight on thermally-modified American hardwoods at the Dubai WoodShow 2014, which opened today (April 8, 2014) at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Center. With an industry goal to increase sales of U.S. hardwoods, AHEC is focused on developing existing markets as well as finding new markets and applications for American hardwoods. According to Roderick Wiles, AHEC Director for Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Oceania, thermal modification is a relatively simple, but carefully controlled heating process, which when applied to a select few American hardwood species effectively turns non-durable interior timber in to a material that can be used outside and even in high moisture environments.
According to AHEC, growing environmental awareness and stricter environmental regulations are forcing end users to look for timber from sources, which have a proven record of sustainable management and low environmental impact. The process of thermal modification (also known as heat treatment) is now able to provide temperate hardwood species with the requisite durability and resistance to decay that was, traditionally, only offered by tropical hardwoods. Whilst the concept is not a new one, thermal modification today is an industrial process, using painstakingly developed technology and it truly represents a new opportunity for American hardwoods. The thermal modification process, a clean and energy efficient technology, uses high heat in a controlled atmosphere to improve both the dimensional stability and the decay resistance of wood by permanently altering its chemical and physical properties.
"By using hardwood sourced from America's well-managed forests, thermally-modified U.S. hardwoods provide an affordable and sustainable alternative to certain alternative species which might have a questionable source," said Roderick Wiles. "The thermal modification process limits the ability of the wood to absorb moisture, so the product is more dimensionally stable and less prone to cup, warp and twist with changes in relative humidity. This increase in dimensional stability significantly extends the service life of applied finishes, reducing maintenance costs. The thermal modification process also removes those nutrients in wood that would otherwise provide a food source for insects and wood-destroying fungi. As a result, the end products do not contain any toxic chemicals to improve longevity and performance."
Thermal modification opens up tremendous opportunities for manufacturers of wood products. The improved moisture resistance and dimensional stability of thermally-modified hardwoods make them an excellent option for wood flooring in spaces where solid wood flooring has traditionally been ruled out for reasons such as contact with water. Whilst, engineered wood floors have been substituted in many of these areas, strip or plank flooring made from heat-treated hardwood lumber may be a solution to growing the available market for solid wood flooring. There is also an opportunity for furniture manufacturers to produce wooden outdoor furniture made from thermally-modified hardwoods and offer it as an alternative to traditional species, such as teak. In principle, heat-treated hardwood furniture could be made from lower-cost species, such as ash, red oak, tulipwood and soft maple.
"Thermally-modified hardwoods also offer the possibility to produce more specialized wood products for those consumers looking for something unique in their homes. For instance, heat-treated wood has been used to replace tiles on a shower floor. In Europe, heat-treated wood has also been commonly used in spas for sauna benches because of its durability and low heat transfer. Homes with decks, balconies and patios are also potential spaces for heat-treated hardwoods. Composite decking products tend to be commonly specified, however treated softwoods or cedar are also used. Heat-treated hardwoods have the potential to replace both, particularly for those building on the waterfront. With a rich brown color, the appearance and uniform coloration rival that of many tropical hardwood species and its color alone may be enough to win over end users," added Wiles.
The future for U.S. hardwoods in the region looks bright, following Dubai's winning bid to host the World Expo 2020, which will underpin renewed confidence in the property sector in the GCC. According to various sources, awarded building projects in the GCC reached a total value of USD 71.0 billion last year and there is a forecast growth of 18 percent in the interiors sector in 2014. Residential and hospitality projects will account for the majority of interior fit-out contracts in 2014 and these will be focused in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Confident of the potential for thermally-modified American hardwoods in the region, AHEC is currently in discussions with a leading Emirati designer to create an installation using thermally-modified American hardwoods, with a view to showcase the project to the design community later this year.
"The potential for thermally-modified American hardwoods is certainly promising, both in established markets as well as in developing ones. Somewhat limited availability may be a constraining factor for the immediate future, but this is changing very quickly, as producers adopt the technology across the United States, Canada and also in Europe and Asia. As the product becomes better known, it is anticipated that its potential as an alternative option in exterior applications or in wet environments will be exploited widely. Its consistent rich brown color, its dimensional stability, resistance to decay and its environmental credentials all point to it being one of the most exciting new products the wood industry has been able to offer in recent years. With the current vogue for timber cladding and decking, as well as exterior timber structures and street furniture, we hope to see American hardwoods featured in an even wider range of applications in the Middle East in the near future," concluded Wiles.