Chemical utilization of wood


Material Information

Chemical utilization of wood its opportunities and obstacles
Series Title:
Report ;
Physical Description:
12 p. : ; 28 cm.
Stamm, Alfred John, 1941-
Forest Products Laboratory (U.S.)
U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory
Place of Publication:
Madison, Wis
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Wood -- Chemistry   ( lcsh )
federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
by Alfred J. Stamm.
General Note:
Caption title.
General Note:
"December 1945."--Cover.
General Note:
"Presented before the Southeastern Section, Society of American Foresters, Auburn, Alabama, October 26, 1945."--P. 1.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 029227671
oclc - 225049331
System ID:

Full Text

-t I I

Its Opportunities and Obstacles
December 1945

Tg worom

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2~\. A

Madison, Wisconsin
In Cooperation with the University of Wisconsin

J5- 3-.1 YIN



ALF1D J. STAM"., Chief
Division of Derived Products

Wood Waste

It is hardly necessary to point out to foresters the huge amount of
wood is wasted each year in the United States. Even .r. Average
Citizen is mindful of the vast waste. The Forest Products Labo-
ratory receives letters regularly from those who are anxious to do something
constructive in utilizing wood waste but who need help irn doing so. This
situation has been brought to the attention of Congress. As a result, they
have earmarked a small increase in the Forest Products Laborator;,' apropri-
ation for this fiscal year to be used in studying the chemical utilization
of wood. It is hoped that this amount will be further increased in future
years as the chemical approach to this i-portant problem shows much promise
of making important contribution to the eventual solution of the waste
problem on an economic basis.

Although the Laboratory's approach to the problem is frox the chemi-
cal standpoint, it will take sore than the chemist to solve it adequately.
Even if the chemist had all the chemical facts regarding a potential utili-
zation. process there is still the necessity of determining its economic
and mechanical feasibility. EconoLical harvesting and transporting of wood
waste so that it can be delivered cheaply for chemical use seems to be the
biggest obstacle confronting the chemical utilization of wood. This phase
of the over-all problem is the one in which foresters and engineers can
make their biggest contribution. Those who are anxious to contribute to
the solution of the waste-utilization problem can well focus attention on
harvesting and transportation, of woods waste in small log, cordwood, chip,
or sawdust form.

Chemical Utilization

The chemical utilization of wood may be divided into several types
of processes: (1) pulpin6, (2) extraction, (3) hydrolysis (converting

IPresented before the Southeastern Section, Society of American Foresters,
Auburn, Alabama, October 26, 1945.

Report :o. R1601


carbohydrates to sugars), (4) destructive distillation, (5) reactions with
various chemicals such as hydrogen and chlorine, and (6) chemical treat-
ments to improve the properties of wood and make possible the utilization
of inferior species for structural use.


Pulping processes are the oldest and best known of the processes for
chemical utilization of wood, Experience has shown, however, that pulping
cannot be done profitably on a small scale. Large-scale and costly equip-
ment is necessary for efficient and economical operation.

Attempts have been made to operate pulp mills on inferior quality
wood and waste. In a few instances these attempts have been successful.
A notable example is the pulping of chestnut chips that have been extracted
for tannin. In general, operators who have tried using low-grade wood have
abandoned its use and turned to high-..quality material in order to increase
the returns from their investments. As quality material becomes less avail-
able, these operators can and will return to the use of the less desirable

Development of a simple means of barking hardwoods at all seasons
as well as small crooked softwood logs will help materially in getting the
pulp mills to use more of the presently unpopular species and lower-grade
woods, Softwood mill waste is now being utilized by some pulp mills oper-
ating in conjunction with a sawmill. All logs going to the mill are pre-
barked. The slabs and, for some forms of paper, even the sawdust are being
used for pulping,

Work at the Forest Products Laboratory on diversification of pulping
species, notably the pulping of southern resinous softwoods and the semi-
chemical pulping of hardwoods, has gone a long way toward making all avail-
able species suitable for pulping. The inclusion of some hardwoods in
southern pine pulping operations has been shown to be practical and highly
advantageous from a silvicultural and economic standpoint. Foresters can
aid in getting various mill operators to follow such practice.

Efforts are being made to utilize more completely pulp-mill waste
liquors. These liquors Contain soluble lignin, hemicelluloses, and wood
extractives which have considerable potential chemical value. In the
sulfate pulping of Southern yellow pine, turpentine and tall oil are now
being recovered to a limited, extent. Yield of tall oil as high as 200
pounds per ton of pulp are obtained. The tall oil is finding use in drying
oils and soaps. Further purification and fractionation should increase its
value and uses.

Sulfite waste liquor is being used to some extent as a dust settler
for roads. Lignin is finding use as a dispersing agent for cement in the
making of concrete; it is being incorporated in the negative plate paste of
electrical storage batteries: and it is used in making vanillin, the active
constituent in vanilla extract,

Report No, B1.601


Cooperative research between the Forest Products Laboratory and a
Canadian mill has demonstrated the possibility of using soda-mill lignin
in laminated plastics. Soda-mill lignin is the simplest to isolate and has
the best plastic properties of the various forms of lignin waste. It can
be incorporated with the rulp in a beater to form a laminating sheet which
requires no auxiliary resin to produce a dense plastic material with good
properties. The Forest Products Laboratory has also shown that soda-mill
lignin can be used as a phenolic-resin Oiluent. The lignin is dissolved in
a laminating resin solution and can be applied to paper or fabric. It can
replace 50 percent of the phenolic-resia ordinarily used without signifi-
cantly affecting the properties of the resulting laminate.

The heiicellulose portion of pulping-'-.-aste liquor has received less
attention than the lignin even though it is -resent in the liquor in at
least equal awo,-t.,-. The hemicelluloses are converted alLost entirely to
sugars in the sulfite process. In the soda process they are much less de-
graded and can be isolated as starchlike products.

The sugars from the sulfite process are, to some extent, being fer-
mented to ethyl alcohol and used for Cro-'ing yeast, as will be described
later. Ethyl alcohol is produced only from the hexose sugars and not from
the pentoce sugars. The pentose sugars can, however, be used for growing
of .,east or fermenting to other products.

The chemistry and possible uses of heLicelluloses are being studied
by the Forest Products Laboratory, where it has been shown that hemicellu-
loses can be isolated from wood in a practically undegraded form by a new
potential pulping process. Practically all the carbohydrate constituents
of wood (holocellulose) are isolated as a si:.4le solid fraction by subject-
ng v'oocd chips to a semichemical pulping, followed by chlorination and
mild alkali extraction. Various hemicellulose fractions can be extracted
from the holocellulose by progressively stronger solvents, leaving a re-
sidual pulp that is considerably higher in alpha cellulose (high-molecular-
weight '-"degraded cellulose) than nor.jal pulps, and which shows proL:ise of
finding use in cellulose derivatives. Such a pulping method would not only
give extra high yields of high-quality pulp, but would also rake possible
the isolation of valuable hemicellulose byproducts.


Extraction processes caL be profitably applied to only a relatively
few species, such as the turpentine and rosin extraction of southern pine
st-imps and. tannin extraction of chestnut and hemlock. These processes
utilize only a small portion of the wood. The problem of utilizing the
rezt of the wood profitably still exists. This has in soie instances been
ac-o-plizhei by pilpir.n the extracted chips. For this use the "'*ood should
te barkced prior to -hipping and extraction. Extraction of wood for chemi-
cals on a sc:Lle too s-all to use the spent chips for pulping awy eventually
'.eco.e profitable if other means of utilize ni the residual wood substance
are found. Expanding the wood extraction industries thus depends to a large
extent 'ipon finding usec for the extracted chips.

-nerort ':o. 1U601

Hydrolysis for Production of Alcohol

Next to pulping, wood hydrolysis has received major attention as a
chemical utilization process at the Forest Products Laboratory during the
last few years. Ethyl alcohol (grain alcohol) caabe niade from wood waste
by hydrolyzing the carbohydrate portion of the wood to sugar, followed by
fermentation of the sugar to alcohol. The general principles of this con-
version have Leon known for years. At the time of world d War I and shortly
thereafter a process known as the American process using Southern yellow
pine woods waste, was in operation in two plants in the United States; one
at Georgetown, South Carolina, and the other at Fullerton, Louisiana. The
process, which consisted of a single rapid digestion of the wood with
dilute acid followed by extraction of the sugar and batch fermentation of
the sugar liquors, produced about 26 gallons of 95 percent alcohol per ton
of dry wood. Each plant produced about 2,500 gallons per day. Operation
of these plants was finally discontinued because of the lack of adequate
woods waste near the plants and the substantial lowering of the price of
blackstrap molasses (to 5 cents a gallon) from which alcohol could be
produced more cheaply.

About 192R a multiple-cycle dilute-acid-hydrolysis process, known as
the Scholler process, was developed in Germany. Yields of about 45 gallons
per ton were obtained from hardwoods and 53 gallons per ton from softwoods.
Cooking times, however, ranged from 16 to 20 hours. During World War II
pilot-plant studies were intensively undertaken by the Forest Products Labo-
ratory, first to duplicate and then to improve on the German process. This
work has resulted in what is called the Madison wood-sugar process. Cooking
liquor is continuously pumped through a bed of wood waste for 2-1/2 to 3
hours under properly controlled conditions, followed by a continuous fermen-
tation. Yields of 55 to 65 gallons per ton of bark-free softwood waste have
been obtained. The improved yield, together with the reduction in cooking
time to as low as one-sixth to one-eighth of that for the Scholler process,
gives the process a better commercial outlook. A Government-sponsored plant
designed to produce 5 to 6 million gallons of alcohol a year from about 380
tons of sawmill wood waste per day by this method is under construction at
Springfield, Oregon.

According to the forestt Products Laboratory experiments, wood with
bark contents as high as 50 percent can be handled but with a significant
drop in yield. Hardwoods can be used instead of softwood. Although the
alcohol yield drops to about 45 gallons per ton, larger amounts of valuable
byproduct wood alcohol and furfural can be recovered to offset the loss in
ethyl alcohol yield. The Laboratory has also shown that yeast can be grown
on the still bottoms, after recovery of the alcohol, to produce about 200
pounds of fodder-yeast byproduct per ton of dry wood.

From each ton of wood processed there is about 650 pounds of residual
lignin. As yet there has not been found a profitable use for this residue.
Present plans are to use it as a fuel in the plant boilers. This lignin is
in a highly insoluble form and is not suitable according to present informa-
tion for use in plastics in the same way that lignin residue from soda pulp

Report To. 1R1601


can be used. Work is under way at the Laboratory in the search for profit-
able uses for this residue.

This new alcohol process has created a great deal of public interest.
In fact, almost everyone with a little sawdust pile wants to make alcohol.
It is thus important to look at some of the economic aspects of the problem.

Consider wood waste in a hogged form delivered at the chemical plant
to be worth $2.00 per ton on a dry-weight, bark-free basis. moisture e and
some bark are acceptable but a processor will not pay for them. The wood
cost per gallon of 95 percent alcohol Would then be about 4 cents and the
chemical cost would be about 6 cents. On the basis of a plant processing
60 tons of dry, bark-free waste per day (approximately 200 tons with bark
and moisture), labor would cost about 6 cents per gallon of alcohol and
plant investment and upkeep 16 cents a gallon. The production cost of alco-
hol would thus be 34 cents per gallon, a figure within reason. In a larger
plant labor charges may be as low as 5 cents per gallon. On the basis of a
10-ton-a-day plant the total labor required would be almost the same as for
a 60-ton plant, which, on the smaller daily output, would amount to perhaps
45 cents per gallon. A 10-ton-a-day plant might cost two-thirds as much
to build as a 60-ton-a-day plant, bringing the plant investment and upkeep
cost to 64 cents per gallon of alcohol. The production cost of alcohol
from the 10-ton plant would thus be 1.19 per gallon. It is evident from
these figures that the manufacture of alcohol from wood is necessarily a
large-scale operation.

There is the possibility of hauling wood waste from several mills to
a central chemical plant. 3y present handling methods it appears that wood
waste cannot be profitably hauled much more than about 10 miles. There is
the radius of haul tentatively chosen as economical for the Springfield
wood-sugar plant.

Comparative cost of alcohol produced by other methods has a direct
learine on the commercial application of the process. Alcohol is being
produced in the State of Washington and in Canada from sulfite-pulp waste
liquor. Plant costs are about the same as estimated for the Iadison wood-
s-gar process, iTo hydrolysis step is involved but, because of the more
dilute liquor, larger volumes have to be handled. Production costs on a
laree-plant basis would probably be about 25 rents per gallon, which is
come'-hat less than the estimated cost of production by the i*adison wood-
s-igar process. Alcohol was produced from blackstrap molasses at about 20
cents per gallon when the cost of molasses was 5 cents per gallon at the
plant. At the present molasses prioe of 18 to 20 cents per gallon, it
Would cost 50 to 56 cents a gallon to produce alcohol from this source.
Ethyl alcohol made frown grain,at present grain prices, ranges in production
.ost from AF cents to $1.50 per gallon, depending on the size and efficiency
of the plart. n thyl alcohol can be produced from petroleum at a somewhat
lower -ost than by the Madison wood-sugar process. It is hard to say, how-
ever, whether the petroleum companies will turn to making alcohol as long
as they can ,:ake more profitable products. It thus appears that the future
of :mak rg,: ethyl alcohol from wood waste depends upon the cost of blackstrap
molasses not falling below 10 cents per gallon and the petroleum industry

'-.eport 1o. R1601

not going into the manufacture of alcohol, Finding a profitable use for the
residual lignin will also materially help the production of ethyl alcohol
from wood. If all the sulfite liquor from pulp mills were fermented alcohol
production from this source would be about 30 million gallons of alcohol per
year, which is about 3 percent of present annual production. Some mills are
too small to produce alcohol economically.

Other Fermentation Products

When wood sugars are fermented with the use of cultures and nutrients
other than those used in producing ethyl alcohol, such products as acetone,
butanol, 2,3-butylene glycol, and lactic acid can be produced. These find
use as solvents and as raw materials for making synthetic rubber and plas-
tics. As yet, available data on these processes are insufficient to indi-
cate how they should be carried out commercially and what the cost of pro-
duction will be.

Fodder yeast can also be grown on the total sugars as well as on the
still bottoms. The extent to which this vitamin-containing food can be
used profitably for feeding is still unknown. Cattle can assimilate urea,
the nutrient ordinarily used in growing fodder yeast, and convert it into
protein. It still remains to be proven whether fodder yeast is a better
food for cattle than urea and to what extent it may replace other natural
protein-containing foods. The quantity of fodder yeast made in this country
up to the present time has been insufficient to make adequate feeding tests.
This situation, however, should change soon.

Hydrolysis for Production of Plastics
and Board Materials

Pioneer experiments by the Forest Products Laboratory showed that
lignin, in a sense Nature's cementing material between the cellulose fibers,
can be freed from the cellulose by a mild acid hydrolysis and be subse-
quently used as a semiplastic to bond the structure together again. Besides
breaking the cellulose-lignin bond, the mild hydrolysis converts the hemi-
celluloses to sugars, while the stable cellulose remains with the lignin to
serve as a plastic reinforcing material. The removed sugars can be either
fermented or used for the growing of yeast. The residue is dried and then
ground to a powder. Although this hydrolyzed residue does have some plastic
properties, it does not make a good plastic when used alone, due to the
extremely high temperature necessary to cause the lignin to flow even mod-
erately and the relatively low water resistance of the product. For this
reason it is preferably used in conjunction with other plastics such as
phenol formaldehyde, which improves both the flow and the water resistance.
Under these conditions a plastic quite similar in appearance, water resist-
ance, and electrical properties to common black phenol-formaldehyde plastics
can be made using 75 percent of hydrolyzed wood and 25 percent of phenolic
resin. This can be contrasted with the 50 percent of wood flour and 50
percent of phenolic resin used in making the ordinary phenol-formaldehyde

Report No. R1601 -6-

molded products, The strength properties, notably toughness, are slightly
lower than for the normal phenol-formaldehyde molded products, mold flow is
also inferior, but acid-resistance properties are better.

A commercially developed modification of the Forest Products Labo-
ratory acid-hydrolysis process, in which the wood is hydrolyzed with an
alkaline medium which becomes slightly acid at the end of the cook, gives a
similar molding powder with superior strength properties to those of the
acid-hydrolyzed product. This material, when used with only 25 percent of
phenolic resin, still lacks the rapid and more extensive flow of the ordi-
nary phenol-formaldehyde molded products, which results from the greater
content of phenolic resin. Although the addition of more resin improves
the flow, it reduces the price advantage. It is this lack of flow that has
held back the commercial use of hydrolyzed-wood plastics. In large objects
with limited need for flow, hydrolyzed-wood plastics may, however, be used
to advantage because of the lower cost. On the basis of the phenolic resin
costing 20 cenLts a pound, wood flour costing 2 cents per pound, and hydro-
lyzed wood costing 4 cents a pound, the raw i.material for the hydrolyzed-
wood plastic would cost 8 cents per pound, in contrast to 11 cents per
pouhd for the present material.

Research is under way at the Forest Products Laboratory to put the
llinin into a more plasticc form so as to improve its flow characteristics
and also avoid the embrittling effect on the cellulose caused by the hydro-
lytic methods that have been used to date.

7he hydrolyzed-wood plastic requires pressures of 3,000 to 4,000
pounds per square inch at elevated temperatures for molding similar to the
present molding powders. T.Is necessitates expensive presses and molds.
There is a crying need for molding compositions that can be cold formed in
a simple hand press, perhaps followed by a simple baking. This problem,
too, is being attacked at the Forest Products Laboratory. The chief diffi-
culty to date has been that the simpler, cheaper compositions which are
readily hand molded all exhibit considerable shrinkage on baking.

Unfortunately, none of the molding compositions show promise of
utilizing : very large quantities of wood waste. For example, if all of the
present ;henol-formaldehyde molded products were to be replaced by the
hydrolyzed-wood plastics, three moderate-sized lumber mills could furnish
all the raw material needed in the country. As board materials show nromlse
of larger volume consumption, considerable attention has been focused at
the Forest Products Laboratory in making such materials.

The hydrolyzed-wood molding powders are not suitable for making
board materials with adequate strength properties, notably toughness. The
strength properties can be greatly improved by having the cellulose rein-
forcing material present in longer-fibered form. This can be accomplished
ty using hardwood chips in place of sawdust and abrading the washed hydro-
lyzed chips while still wet to a pulp rather than grinding to a powder after
dryinrn. This pulp can be madee paper on a paper machine. After incor-
poratins 10 to 15 percent of henolic resin, these sheets can be pressed at
elevated temperatures and a pressure of about 2,000 pounds per square inch

Report 7'o. R1601


into a high-density board with quite good strength properties and water
resistance. The board cannot be nailed but can be drilled. This, together
with its high density and molding cost, do not make it attractive for general
housing applications. It, however, should be suitable for electrical panel-
ing and for such purposes as shower-bath walls.

More recently pulp boards have been made by the Forest Products Labo-
ratory from the hydrolyzed chip fiber by forming thick pulp mats that are
pressed wet under a pressure of 100 pounds per square inch or less without
the addition of any phenolic resin. These boards have quite good properties
comparable to those of untempered commercial hardboards. The boards which
have a specific gravity of about 1,0 can be nailed. They can be made from
softwoods as well as hardwoods, but the strength properties and water re-
sistance of the softwood product are somewhat inferior.

Although these and other similar hardboards show promise for use as
a sheathing material for houses and in other ways that wood is used, they
are far from being synthetic lumber. Their use in housing will, undoubtedly,
expand. Some new producers will undoubtedly succeed. If all who have con-
templated production of these board materials actually go into production,
however, a state of overproduction will be inevitable.

Destructive Distillation

Prior to the development and the industrialization of the present
process for making synthetic wood alcohol, wood distillation was a profit-
able industry. Only a few plants have survived this development. During
the war period, however, considerable interest in distillation has been
revived, largely because of the increased demand for charcoal. No new ex-
tensive plants have been built but some charcoal manufacture without recovery
of volatiles has been renewed. There is still, however, the possibility of
reviving the wood-distillation industry by introducing new principles of
distillation that will result in other than the conventional products. Such
distillation principles can be applied to lignin residues from which it has
been shown that valuable phenolic compounds can be obtained. The Forest
Products Laboratory is again launching on a destructive-distillation research
program after an inactive period of about 20 years, as it is felt that the
introduction of new techniques may revive an old industry that under the old
methods does not have a promising postwar outlook.

Hydrogenation of Wood

It has been shown from pioneer research at the Forest Products Labo-
ratory that lignin dissolved in organic solvents or suspended in water can
be made to react with hydrogen gas at elevated temperatures and pressures
in the presence of various metallic catalysts. Among the products of the
reaction are several brand new cyclic alcohols that had never been previously
described in the literature. These show promise as plastic solvents, anti-
knock agents for motor fuel, and toxic agents. By varying the hydrogenation

Report No. E1601


conditions, phenolic compounds which may find use in plastics and complex
neutral oils, together with a plastic-like residue, are obtained.

Wood waste or chips can also be hydrogenated in aqueous suspension
to produce soluble lignin decomposition compounds and a cellulose pulp
residue. This is a possible new pulping process that will be studied
further by the Forest Products Laboratory. Under more severe hydrogenation
conditions the cellulose can be converted to glycerine and sugars. In this
case the entire wood is converted to liquid I products.

All these findings are too new to predict their future application.
:.ost of the data have been obtained in small bombs and in continuous hydro-
genation equipment designed for other hydrogenation reactions. Continuous
hydrogenation equipment is being built at the Forest Products Laboratory
for continuing this work.

Modified 'loods

The modification of w'ood by chemical treatments arnd by compression
has excited a great deal of interest during the war -7eriod as a result of
the publicity which the materials have received. These modified woods
should not be thought of as iL.roved forms of enr.er1l- utility lumber, as
has often been inferred, but specialty materials for uses where tl.eir
special properties are needed.


Wood treated with phenolic-resin for,.:zing chemicals according to the
Forest Products Laboratory method in which the chemicals enter and bond to
the cell-wall structure, followed by dr;-ing and curing of the resin within
the str.,iture, is known as iLzpreg. Ihien resin is thus made an intimate
part of the wood the tendency of the wood to swell and shrink is permanently
reduced. Phenolic-resin formin(; systems have proven to be the most effec-
tive in dimensionally stabilizing wood. Reductions in the equilibrium
swelling and shrinking; to 30 percent of normal are possible with .henolic
reins. Urea resins, which have been highly publicized of late for this
purpose, reduce the equilibrium swelling, by only half as much.

Stabilization of wood by a resin treatment differs from preservative
and fire-retardant treatments in that it must be i-uch more complete. The
resin must be uniformly distributed throughout the entire cell-v'all struc-
ture to be fully effective. For this reason the treating of lumber and the
treating of freshly felled logs has not met with the success that some
investigators have claimed. Thu Forest Products Laboratory has found that
veeneer of practically any species and many species of solid wood in lengths
up to a foot or two can be adequately treated. Practically none of the
woods can be properly treated in lumber lengths. Even if lumber could be
adequately treated, the increase in cost would make the material prohibi-
tively expensive for the majority of proposed uses. It is nevertheless

Report ::o. R1601


felt that the resin treatment of veneer for facing of plywood and for vari-
ous specialties will find considerable use.

The face checking of plywood can be practically eliminated merely by
facing normal plywood with phenolic-resin-treated faces.

The treatment also imparts to the panels considerable resistance
against decay, termite, and marine-borer attack. A panel consisting of two
resin-treated face plies with a single untreated core ply was inserted in
the ground for 1 year in a field in Mississippi where termite action is
severe. The termites tried the faces but found them not to their liking.
Like good soldiers who have failed in a frontal attack, they tried a flank
attack and, finding the core just what they wanted, proceeded to clean it
out. Similar material that has had the edges protected with a preservative
treatment and material with all the plies treated is, in some instances,
sound after 5 years.

The resin treatment further cuts down the passage of water vapor
through the panels to a marked extent, greatly increases the electrical
resistance and the resistance to most chemicals with the exception of
strong alkalies. Contrary to many of the publicity claims, resin treatment
has a negligible effect in improving fire resistance. Fire-resistant salts,
however, may be incorporated into the wood together with the treating resin
and fixed in the structure by the treating resin to give quite good fire-
retardant properties.

Only a few of the strength properties of wood are significantly in-
creased by a resin treatment and the toughness is significantly decreased,
which is contrary to much of the publicity on resin-treated wood. The only
properties that are significantly increased are hardness, compressive
strength, and abrasion resistance, and these are increased to a greater
extent than the weight only at high resin contents.

Impreg was manufactured during the war only for military uses, one of
which was for housings for electrical control equipment, in which the im-
proved electrical properties are taken advantage of and another in an as yet
unreleased use in which the improved abrasion resistance is utilized.
Impreg shows the greatest promise for postwar use as resin-treated faces for
ordinary plywood. Such panels might be used as house, trailer, and boxcar
siding, flooring, and paneling. It still has to be proven, however, that
the improved properties warrant the increased cost.


Compreg is the name given by the Forest Products Laboratory to their
stable form of resin-treated compressed wood. Its dimensional stability,
resistance to organisms, chemicals, and flow of electricity are practically
the same as for iimpreg. Most of the strength properties are increased about
In proportion to the compression. It is tougher than impreg but not quite
so tough as the original wood.

Report No. RB1601


Due to the p-ilasticizin6 action of the resin-forming chemicals on wood
at temperatures used in hot pressing, the treated wood can be appreciably
cozupressed under a pressure which scarcely compresses an untreated control.
Because of this plasticizing action of the resin-forming chemicals on wood
it is -,ossible to uake a combination of resin-treated compressed faces on an
untreated uncompressed core in a single assembly and compression operation.
It is felt that in this form conipreg will find wost of its 1,ostwar uses.

When coupreg is compressed to a specific gravity of about 0.9 to 1.4,
it assumes a glossy finish which persists throughout the structure. A cut
surface can be sanded and buffed to a high degree of finish without the use
of applied coatings. This is a feature of coapreg which would make it
desirable for use in furniture and flooring. Panels with a yellow-poplar
coipreo: face, yellow-poplar impreg back and a Douglas-fir plywood core have
been mdaie for a flooring service test that is now under way in one of the
Forest Products Laboratory offices.

Compreg, largely in the form of thick, highly compressed panels, has
been manufactured during the war by seven companies for war use, chiefly in
the manufacture of propellers. Compreg has also been used to some extent
for various conr.ector and bearing plates, aerial antenna masts, and tooling
jigs. Solid copreg shows promise for postwar use in pulley and gear
wheels, bearings, tooling jigs; shuttles, bobbins, and picker sticks for
looms; high-strength electrical insulators; knife handles; and various deco-
rative novelties. Compreg has better strength properties than fabric-
reinforced plastics and it should be appreciably cheaper due to the fact
that veneer is cheaper than fabric and about half as much resin is used in
aakirn; compreg as is used in the fabric-reinforced plastics. Compreg may
thus replace these plastics in a number of uses.


Resin-treated wood in both the uncompressed and compressed forms is,
unfortunately, more brittle than the original wood. To meet the demand for
a tougher compressed product than co;zpreg, a compressed wooa coitainina: no
resir: was develoLied by the Forest Products Laboratory. It will not lose
its compression under swelling conditions as will ordinary compressed wood.
This material, named staypak, is zade by modifying the compressi;.g condi-
tior.s so as to cause the lignin cementing material between the cellulose
fibers to flow sufficiently to eliluinate the internal stresses. Staypak is
riot so water-resistant as compreg, but it is twice as tough and higher
ten, ile arnd flexural properties. The natural finish of stay.-pak is almost
as good as that of couLprec. Under weatherin.- conditions, however, it is
definitely "r.ferior to co,_preg. ?or outdoor use staypak should have a good
synthetic resin varnish or paint finish. Staypak can be used in the same
way as compreg where extremely high water resistance is not needed. It
shows promise for use in propellers, tool handles, forming dies and con-
nector plates where high impact strength is needed.


Report -;o. R1601


The cheapest and simplest method of imparting dimensional stability
to wood thus far found is to heat the wood under conditions that just avoid
charring. This can be done with a minimum loss in strength properties by
the Forest Products Laboratory method of heating under molten metal for a
few minutes. The wood becomes dark brown in color, loses about half of its
original toughness, together with moderate losses in other strength proper-
ties. Equilibrium swelling and shrinking can be reduced to 60 percent of
normal and an appreciable decay resistance is imparted to the wood b;T this
treatment. Staybwood may find some use in places where dimensional sta-
bility and moderate decay resistance are more important than strength.


Although a great deal has been accomplished in developing means of
chemically utilizing wood and in making modified woods, no universally
successful process of utilizing the vast amount of inferior or waste wood
has been developed. Individual operators, however, may be successful in
using any of the processes discussed. Their success will largely depend
upon making careful surveys of the source of wood supply, markets, and
economical size of the prospective plant before venturing into any extensive

Although the modified-wood field is primarily based on using high-
quality wood chiefly in the form of veneer, there is the possibility of
some manufacture based on the use of short dimension stock that is classed
as waste because of size rather than quality. Coipreg knife and other
handles, knobs, and various decorative novelties can all be made to advan-
tage from short lengths of solid wood rather than from veneer. The increased
value of the product would make possible a more scrupulous selection of wood
than would be possible for similar products made from untreated wood.

Further research on chemical utilization and modification of wood will
undoubtedly expand the present possibilities of waste utilization, but the
chemist needs the help of the forester in working out the problem of deliver-
ing the waste cheaply in large quantities to the processing plants.

Report No. B1601


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