By Ryan Olson, Wood Digest magazine
While the growing trend for architects and builders to use a "green" product continues to rise, and consumers continue to demand more exotic wood species, Weyerhaeuser and Aracruz Produitos De Madeira, S.A, through a partnership, have developed a new hardwood species available in a full spectrum of industrial wood products, including lumber, plywood, veneer, back and flitch veneer, edgebanding and solid and engineered flooring.
Appropriately named Lyptus, after its wood source, eucalyptus, the hardboard product is available as an alternative to other species of hardwood. It's a 100 percent renewable hardwood for industrial manufacturers who are looking for a dependable source of high-quality, sustainable hardwood lumber.
"When it comes to eucalyptus, it comes down to just a few good subspecies with the growth properties that work well for woodworkers," says Ian Firth, director of appearance Wood Products for Weyerhaeuser Building Materials. "We felt that eucalyptus had a good possibility for a replacement for some of the other hard woods available.
"Our biggest success and marketing plan hinged around being a green product," says Firth. "When you look at it, it uses 1/40th of the earth's surface compared to nonsustainable tropical sources, and that alone is helping the environment."
The majority of the plantations in South America that grow eucalyptus are on land that has some type of agricultural use. The area where Weyerhaeuser grows this exotic wood is in an area where, in some cases, it has been without a forest cover for over 100 years. In the case of Aracruz, some of this land was part of the original Atlantic rain forest many years ago. They are attempting in their green belt areas to recreate what existed 50 to 100 years ago, through planting of trees original to the area.
But this isn't just a success story about harvesting a new wood specie for the secondary woodworking market; it's an opportunity to utilize ideas from other countries such as South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, to grow eucalyptus as a board alternative.
How was Lyptus developed?
According to Firth, increased harvesting and demand of tropical woods have left a static supply of wood species and creates an imbalance in the marketplace. "I visited South Africa and became aware of plans to develop eucalyptus as a board alternative to the standards such as mahogany."
Looking to expand globally and produce a sustainable product to replace rain forest species, Weyerhaeuser started planting its own plantation forests in Uruguay. In the meantime, Aracruz had built a sawmill and wanted to use Weyerhaeuser's solid wood presence to establish a solid wood program.
"We had done a lot of testing on how to proceed and decided on a partnership that would allow us to work together on technical and forestry issues that were important to both of our companies," he says.
Some of those issues included finding a rapid growing tree that has the inherent applicability issues that are required for wood products. Lyptus is the result of carefully selected natural hybrids, world-class technology and well planned, sustainable forest plantations.
Proper handling of raw wood materials prior to being processed is critical to the success of any company looking to introduce a new board product. However, one of the largest challenges for Weyerhaeuser was the fact that eucalyptus had never been manufactured in commercial volumes before now.
"There wasn't a need for something like this," says Firth. "As long as there was a huge forest cover in Asia, South America and Africa, it was simply hard for a plantation species to compete other than the wood species used for the fast growing niche applications."
It's not easy to develop eucalyptus for solid wood applications. The wood has to air dry slowly at a length of up to nine months. Kiln drying the eucalyptus species forced the company to address color tone issues. Regardless of that issue, kiln drying methods actually stabilize the wood so it may be used by a cabinetmaker.
And if that isn't enough, the cost of meranti and mahogany has more than doubled. At some point, according to Firth, looking at the expense of establishing a plantation around the world seemed like a good idea. Up until now, eucalyptus was primarily grown for charcoal and pulp, and it didn't have a good name because of the small quantities available and the large number of mixed species.
Lyptus compared to other types of hardwoods
While the ecological parts of this story are important, it should be noted that Lyptus has a high strength to weight ratio. "It's a very strong wood. Its strength properties are one of the main features of this wood. With a close grain, it also adapts well to turning and takes a variety of finishes. You can make it look like a temperate or tropical wood specie."
According to Firth, from a cost standpoint, Lyptus is positioned anywhere from 10 to 40 percent below any other valuable species like genuine mahogany and cherry.
Suited for flooring, cabinetry, architectural millwork, residential and commercial furniture and indoor paneling. Lyptus is cherry in color and has the fine grain of genuine mahogany. Lyptus is also a very easy grade because it is pruned. "The knots are there in the lower grades, however, but due to their predictability a manufacturer can develop cutting techniques where the yields will be much higher than any North American hardwood available."
A low silica content has led researchers at Weyerhaeuser to note no significant issues on the wear and tear on knives. In addition, Firth predicts that from a supply point of view, the availability will increase. "What we are seeing now are consumers who want that tropical look and I think Lyptus will gradually fit that niche. Twenty years from now, I don't think we're going to see much mahogany left but we will see a good supply of Lyptus."
He says this is one of the few wood products that will be wider, longer and clearer as time goes on. As plantations mature, (every 15 years, as opposed to every 60 to 80 years for mahogany), Lyptus is sure to make an impact on the market.