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Wood utilization research in the Philippines

GEORGE HUNT, FAO Technical Assistance Officer

Foresters everywhere are alert to the necessity of maintaining and increasing forest production by better forest practices, and by reduction of losses by insects, fungi, fire, and shifting agriculture. They are even working to develop hybrid species that grow more rapidly and produce wood more quickly than the parent species, thus increasing the potential productive capacity of the forest land. But all these efforts must be supported by more efficient harvesting and utilization of the forest crop, for it is of little use to grow more timber and then throw a large part of it away. In the more highly developed countries of the world, relatively little wood goes to waste although there is still the possibility of finding higher uses for much of it. But in the regions of the world where great areas of virgin forest still prevail, only about one quarter to one third of the wood growing on the land reaches the consumer in the form of finished products. The rest is left on the land to rot or is lost as bark, sawdust, shavings, slabs, trimmings, defective pieces, and in other forms as the log progresses through the various manufacturing steps that convert it into consumer products. The waste is caused by the inability of the logger or the manufacturer to find profitable uses for his residues.

The problem is especially great in tropical countries where there are so very many species of timber but only a relatively small number find commercial use. The noncommercial species in the forest must wait until research provides profitable ways to use them or the scarcity of wood becomes sufficiently acute to force them into use despite their unpopularity. In the Philippines, for example, there are some 3,000 species of trees that grow to one foot or more in diameter but, at most, only about 200 species find use and only about 60 of these are commercially important. Most of the 2,800 remaining species are not plentiful but all of them undoubtedly could be used commercially in some form or other if their properties were thoroughly understood.

The tonnage of wood and bark that goes to waste in the Philippines every year is enormous, and this is potential raw material for innumerable industries that could provide employment for thousands and increase the contribution of the forests to the welfare of the nation without increasing the drain on the forests. When the world's population was small and the forests covered the earth, efficiency in wood utilization had no significance. Now that population is increasing at so fast a rate and forests are shrinking rapidly, the whole tree must be utilized and not just part of it. Research and industrial development provide the means to bring this about.

The forest products research institute

Research in wood properties and utilization is a modern necessity in any country blessed with abundant forests. General recognition of this fact is evidenced by the number of countries that have already established research laboratories for this purpose, and in addition, there are a number of new laboratories being established and old ones being enlarged.

For many years, foresters in the Philippines have recognized the need for a comprehensive program of forest products research but until recently they were unable to do much about it. Nevertheless, some very useful research in this field was done piecemeal by members of the Bureau of Forestry, the Philippine Bureau of Science, and the College of Forestry. It was not until 1954 however, that the dream of a separate forest products laboratory devoted solely to research and development on the properties, uses and industrial applications of wood became a reality. In November of that year the forest products laboratory main building was completed in Mount Makiling National Park, not far from Manila, and a small staff moved into it and began to install equipment. During the following years the number of buildings has been increased to six, the amount of machinery and equipment tripled and the total staff increased to about 160, of whom more than half are college graduates. The forest products-laboratory was first established as a division of the Bureau of Forestry but on 5 July 1957 it was separated from that bureau and reorganized into the present semiautonomous Forest Products Research Institute, attached for policy purposes to the University of the Philippines.

The development and growth of this institute is an outstanding example of international co-operation and personal teamwork. FAO has, since April 1954, provided a technical assistance expert to assist the Philippine Government in equipping and staffing the institute, training members of the staff and developing its research program. In addition, FAO has provided the services of five specialists at different times for periods up to twelve months, to give special assistance in their respective fields, which included timber testing, pulp and paper research and veneer, plywood and gluing research. The buildings and grounds, some of the equipment and the salaries of the workers are provided by the Philippine Government, most of the equipment has been furnished by the United States International Co-operation Administration (ICA) but substantial amounts of equipment have been received as Colombo Plan donations from the United Kingdom and Australian Governments. A large contribution of books for the technical library was made by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Some 26 members of the institute staff are now undergoing training in the United States, Australia and India or have completed their training and returned to their jobs. This training has been made possible by all the co-operating organizations named above in addition to universities in the United States and the Smith-Mundt-Fulbright program of the United States. Many other individuals and organizations have made contributions of one kind or another to the equipment, the library or the success of the institute - so many, in fact, that it is impractical to list them.

A more notable example of worldwide co-operation in the success of a single research institution would be hard to find and, fortunately, this co-operation is continuing and even expanding. As a result, the Philippines now has a research institute in full operation that is probably the most outstanding of its kind in Asia: and it is still growing and progressing toward greater things. It will undoubtedly make great contributions in future years to the knowledge about wood and wood utilization, particularly the tropical woods of Southeast Asia and neighboring island countries. It will thus be a living monument to the many organizations and individuals whose contributions made it possible.

Research program

The research program in the early years of such a forest institute must be largely of the exploratory or survey type, to learn the strength, durability, specific gravity, shrinkage, seasoning properties, treating properties, chemical composition, fiber dimensions, pulping and paper-making properties and other properties and uses of all the commercially important woods and, eventually, of all the tree species of the Philippines. At the same time, studies must be made to develop improvements in processing to reduce waste or improve the final product and to search for new industrial uses for which wood now wasted can be employed.

The necessity for concentrating on the survey type of work in the beginning is due in part to the lack of knowledge of the basic properties of Philippine woods. This information is urgently needed commercially and must be obtained as quickly as possible. It is also due in part to the lack of training and experience of most of the staff in scientific research. As the experience and competence of the staff increases, however, and they develop their initiative and understanding, these empirical studies will gradually give way to more scientific investigations.

FIGURE 1. - Front view of the main building of the Philippine Forest Products Research Institute (formerly Forest Products Laboratory). The building, located among the tropical vegetation of Mount Makiling National Park 70 kilometers south of Manila, was first occupied by a very small staff in November, 1954.

FIGURE 2. - "Midget" Fourdrinier paper machine that produces a continuous sheet of 8.5 inch. (21.5 centimeter) wide paper in a variety of thicknesses. Over 125 different papers have thus far been made on this machine from hardwoods, bamboos, abaca, bagasse and mixtures.

The research and development being done by other forest products laboratories are a great help to the new institute and provide much information of immediate applicability to Philippine conditions, without the necessity of repeating the entire research. Some of the work of other countries will have to be repeated, however, to learn how the results apply to Philippine woods and conditions

The research program of the institute is organized into the same general lines of work as are common in other forest products laboratories. In some details the assignment of individual projects to the research divisions is not entirely logical but this is recognized and will be corrected later as opportunity permits.

Chemical investigations

Emphasis is being placed at present upon the pulping of Philippine woods, bamboos, and agricultural waste fibres such as abaca, bagasse, rice straw and the like. Agricultural crop fibres, of course, are not forest products but, singe no other public institution in the Philippines is equipped for research in pulping and paper making, the pulping of these fibres has been added to the research program of the institute.

The Philippines is almost entirely a paper-importing country vet it has enormous wood resources that can be made into highly useful pulps and papers. One plant is pulping sugar cane bagasse on a substantial scale and making it into good paper. There are a number of other paper and paperboard mills in and around Manila but they use either imported pulp or waste paper. The work of the Forest Products Research Institute has already demonstrated that good marketable papers in great variety can be made from most of the Philippine hardwoods and bamboos that have been tried, as well as from abaca fibres and bagasse. It is believed that there are few woods, if any, in the Philippines that cannot be made into marketable paper of some kind, either alone or in mixtures with other woods or fibres.

The institute has a Fourdrinier paper machine that makes a continuous sheet of paper 8 ½ inches (21.5 centimeters) wide. Over 125 machine runs have been made thus far in which usable papers have been produced from a wide variety of species or mixture. Experiments and demonstrations have also been made in other countries on certain Philippine woods and bamboo and excellent papers have been produced from them. There is no longer any question that the Philippines can make practically all the paper it requires from its own wood and fibres. The principal problem now is how to raise the capital, build the mills, and start production, although much research work must still be done in the refining of methods to produce specific papers and to provide the answers to the innumerable individual problems that will be met. Obviously, no pulp and paper mill should be built without thorough economic studies in addition to the purely technological studies that can be made in the laboratory.

Another phase of the work of the Chemical Investigations Division is the production and briquetting of charcoal. This will be largely demonstration work because both production and briquetting of charcoal have been widely practiced in other countries for a long time and the equipment and methods are known. Charcoal is produced in the Philippines also and one industrial company is using about 1,000 tons of lump charcoal per month. A great deal of dust or "fines" is produced in handling the charcoal which is more difficult and less satisfactory to use than the larger lumps. Briquetting should overcome this difficulty. Some of the dense hard woods make a strong charcoal that handles well but the softer woods produce weaker, more fragile lumps. When using logging waste and mill waste for making charcoal the hard woods and the soft woods will be "coaled" together. Grinding and subsequent briquetting should produce a uniformly dense and industrially desirable fuel from the mixture. A complete, small-scale charcoal briquetting plant that will produce about 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of briquettes per hour is now being installed and will be used to determine the feasibility of this process and to provide briquettes for industrial trials.

Wood technology

The manufacture of veneer and plywood in the Philippines is growing rapidly and the makers are meeting numerous problems on which research can be helpful. A complete veneer and plywood plant of small size is being used by the institute in studies to determine the correct knife angle and nose-bar setting in the veneer lathe to produce best quality veneer from different species and to study the many problems in the machine drying of veneer and the details of gluing it into plywood of acceptable export grade and testing the results. The gluing characteristics of the common commercial Philippine woods are also to be determined preparatory to their expected use in the production of laminated timbers. The relative suitability of different kinds of glue for safe use under the high humidity conditions of the Philippines is also being studied, as well as the extent to which they may safely be diluted with cheaper materials in the manufacture of plywood.

Basic studies are being made, of course, upon the strength of the different Philippine species to help improve the efficiency of their use for building construction and all other uses for which strength and toughness are important. In this work, as well as in specific gravity and shrinkage studies, the plan is to test the wood of at least five different trees from each of three rainfall regions in estimating the averages for the species. The rainfall regions are classed as very wet, very dry, and intermediate. It is a rough classification indeed but about the best that can be made. It will make it possible to determine whether the differences in rainfall have a noticeable influence on the average and the range of properties of the several species.

From the beginning, the institute has adopted the policy of selecting its test trees in the woods, taking botanical specimens to be filed in the herbarium as evidence of correct species identification and recording in great detail data on the location from which the tree was obtained, the nature of the soil upon which it grew, the elevation and slope of the land, the other species in the immediate vicinity and various other details. This is somewhat burdensome but is necessary where there are so many species. After a sufficient number of trees have been tested, these records will make it possible to analyze the data for any species or group of species, in various ways, including the influence of soil type, soil moisture, latitude, elevation, rainfall and other factors upon the properties of the wood.

The Entomology Section of the Division of Wood Preservation is studying the insect enemies of wood, of which the Philippines has more than its share, and is searching for practical means of controlling them. The four major groups to contend with are the subterranean termites, the dry-wood termites, the powder-post beetles, and the log-boring ambrosia beetles. Each in its own way destroys or devalues enormous quantities of wood each year. Information available from the work of other countries on the control off these insects is being used to the fullest extent and publicized while experimental work is being directed towards field trials and demonstrations to get the most useful protective methods into practice, as well as to search for better methods.

The Pathology Section is studying the wood-staining and wood-destroying fungi of the Philippines and methods for their control. The staining fungi are of particular interest as they affect the production of rattan for export and the production of wooden shoe soles (bakya) for domestic use. In both cases great loss of value is caused but in rattan production it is especially severe. As much as one half of the total rattan canes cut may be so badly blue stained as to become practically valueless before reaching their destination. In both cases, the basic need is not to obtain new information but to induce the operators to apply the known methods and materials for stain prevention. In this instance as in many others, it is easier to determine: what should be done than it is to get people to do it.

The problem of decay prevention is also mainly a problem of inducing people to avoid the conditions that favor decay or to use appropriate preservative treatment. The Preservative Treatment Section is studying the relative ease of treatment of different species in the hope of finding species in addition to apitong that take treatment readily and also to devise good treating methods for species that must be used but are resistant to preservative penetration. In this work, the section will be assisted by a small but complete high-pressure treating plant that will apply preservatives at pressures up to 1,000 lbs. per square inch (70 kilograms per square centimeter).

FIGURE 3. - Microscopist measuring the dimensions of wood fibres. The fibre dimensions of more than 100 species of woods and bamboos have been measured so far and the results published.

In the Seasoning Section, the principal problem is to classify the commercial Philippine woods into groups with regard to ease of kiln drying and to develop drying schedules for each group that will accomplish the most rapid drying consistent with a minimum of degrade. Drying schedules have been developed for certain species in previous years but it is believed they can be materially improved.

As in other countries, some species in the Philippines are so nearly alike in structure and appearance that they cannot be distinguished by examining the wood, even under the microscope. This is true of red lauan and tangile both of which are commercially important. One of the projects in the Wood Anatomy Section of the Wood Technology Division, therefore, is the search for methods of distinguishing these species from each other. The 3,000 tree species of the Philippines offer unlimited opportunities for this section to develop identification keys and compare anatomical characteristics. The section is also studying fibre dimensions of woods and bamboos in order to classify them with regard to their potential usefulness in paper making. Over 100 species have thus been classified and the results made public.

The future

Lack of space prevents mentioning the many other studies of interest and importance that are included in the research program for the fiscal year 1958-59, which includes a total of about 90 projects, large and small. Some of these projects must continue in the program for many years while others are of such character that they can be completed in a few months. Each project is described individually in the annual research program which is issued about 1 July, with a brief description of past results and plans for the future. Practically every project is covered by a detailed working plan which describes the objectives of the project and outlines the plan of attack. Such detailed plans may be less necessary in an institute of long experience but they are highly important in a new institute with a largely inexperienced staff.

The transition from the survey type of research into scientific pioneering beyond the boundaries of present knowledge will be gradual and can be accomplished only after more of the staff have undergone the disciplines of further academic training and have developed the competence required to earn the doctorate degree or equivalent. No member of the staff has thus far earned this degree and only a few have attained the Master of Science level. The dearth of skilled scientists and science administrators is serious in countries that are technologically underdeveloped and is an obstacle that must be overcome as rapidly as possible at the Forest Products Research Institute. In the beginning, trainees were sent abroad by the institute to learn by doing in other institutions the tasks they would be assigned to on their return. This seemed necessary in order to get the survey type of work under way as quickly as possible. Now the emphasis is being placed on postgraduate academic training for advanced degrees.

Although the Forest Products Research Institute is just beginning, it has already provided much useful information to industrial entrepreneurs in the Philippines and some of it has been converted into successful manufacturing operations. It has also been able to settle certain disputes. For example, a local paper manufacturer found a large shipment of foreign pulp unacceptable because he could not make good paper from it, yet the foreign pulp manufacturer represented it as high-quality material. Seller and purchaser together brought a sample of pulp to the institute where examination under the microscope showed it to be of good quality and a laboratory paper machine run produced good wrapping paper from it. It was found that the paper manufacturer had not been beating the pulp properly and, when this failure was corrected, the pulp proved entirely acceptable.

One wood product manufacturer had a great deal of wood waste. At the same time he was importing paper for saturating with asphalt. At his request he was shown how the waste could be converted into a saturating paper by a relatively simple method and he immediately devised equipment for the purpose.

Specific help has been given in the selection of local species for the manufacture of venetian blinds, tool handles, pencils, piano parts and other articles. Inventors or process developers have been helped over seemingly insurmountable obstacles resulting from their lack of equipment or knowledge.

In short, the institute is being increasingly consulted as it becomes better known and its influence and usefulness are constantly growing. There is every reason to feel sure that it will make great contributions to science and industry in the years ahead.

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