The current outbreak the mountain pine beetle and its microbial associates, native to the forests of western North America from Mexico to central British Columbia has destroyed wide areas of lodgepole pine forest, including more than 16 million of the 55 million hectares of forest in British Columbia. In light of this outbreak, British Columbia has been faced with a tough question: what do we do with the billions of trees being killed by the mountain pine beetle?
Well, Pasca and Professors Ron Thring and Ian Hartley may have found the solution! They have discovered that mountain pine beetle (MPB) wood is actually an effective ingredient for producing concrete! Usually, aggregates consist of stones or rocks, but MPB wood is now becoming a new viable option.
As it is understood that concrete normally repels organic materials such as wood, it would be easy to disregard the feasibility of high-quality concrete made with wood particles. Pasca, from UNBC states, “But for some reason, cement sticks to lodgepole pine and this compatibility is even stronger when the tree has been killed – or you could say, enhanced – by the mountain pine beetle.”
Pasca explored various combinations of wood-to-cement ratios using three sizes of woodchips. This generated 9 different mixtures. These mixtures were created in a lab setting then poured into a mold where it was left to cure. The result was what looked like a hybrid between plywood and concrete. You are able to drive a nail into it without pre-drilling and you can cut them with regular wood tools! Further they are water-resistant and stronger than many similar products that are currently on the market. “It’s a beautiful product that combines all of the structural advantages of concrete with the aesthetic quality of wood,” Pasca explains.
The research brings a huge sigh of relief to the BC forest industry which is looking for alternative wood products to complement the production of lumber, plywood and wood pellets. The MPB wood in particular is not an ideal option for current wood products being produced due to their susceptibility to early cracking after mortality. So why not use it to produce wood concrete?
“The whole issue of how we can maximize each tree is vital to the forest industry and the many communities of the province that depend on forestry for their survival,” says Ian Hartley, UNBC’s Associate Dean of Graduate Programs who is an expert in the wood industry and who collaborated in Fasca’s research. “This research has produced a new product that deserves further investigation.”