LSU AgCenter research adding value to marginal timber

Cheng Piao, Van Osdell, Mary Ann  |  8/22/2008 1:09:42 AM

News Release Distributed 08/21/08

The Louisiana timber industry could get a financial boost from the results of research to create new value-added products from small-diameter trees.

Researchers at the LSU AgCenter recently received a $127,500 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to conduct a systematic study of making engineered, laminated composites from small-diameter timber, according to Dr. Cheng Piao, a researcher at the AgCenter’s Calhoun Research Station.

Piao is using innovative engineering designs to make high-quality, value-added engineered products from trees with diameters of 4-9 inches. A critical challenge for using this small-diameter timber has been how to make composite products efficiently and effectively from the small, tapered and crooked trees, Piao said.

Such trees currently are sold either for making oriented strand board or chips for pulp and paper production.

Piao is “re-engineering” this timber by cutting it into pieces and then putting them together with synthetic resins to manufacture laminated products for use as utility poles and cross arms.

Other uses for the composite materials could be for such items as posts for highway, mine, marine, deck and fence applications and for trusses and beams for building construction, Piao said.

“This project will provide a profitable outlet for small-diameter timber, enhance rural economics, create new jobs and reduce wildfire,” Piao said.

Current technology for using small-diameter timber has suffered from low profitability, difficulty in large-scale production, productivity and product quality, Piao said.

“In Louisiana, landowner income for pulpwood has decreased nearly one-third from 1998 to 2005 while the amount of pulpwood that is produced has remained constant,” he said. “Forest landowners sustained a net annual loss of more than $43 million.”

When the project was being developed, saw timber was $45 per ton, and small-diameter timber was about $8 per ton, Piao said. While current prices are lower for saw timber and higher for small diameter timber, markets for the smaller timber remain limited.

Piao also will use a computerized system for evaluating small-diameter timber to determine the most efficient way to cut logs into the optimum number of sections and to search the resulting database for sections of specific dimensions to produce utility poles and cross arms.

Piao said the LSU AgCenter will develop seminars and workshops in cooperation with local forestry associations to share the methods and techniques developed in the project with sawmills, manufacturers and power companies.

Dis-Tran Wood Products in Pineville, a manufacturer of wood products for the electrical transmission industry, and Arnold Forest Products Corp., a wood treatment company in Shreveport, are assisting with the research, along with Cade Smith, who is providing timber for the research project.

Other LSU AgCenter researchers working on the project include Dr. Michael Blazier at the LSU AgCenter’s Hill Farm Research Station at Homer and Dr. Todd Shupe with the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Forest Products Development Center on the campus in Baton Rouge.


Contact: Cheng Piao at (318) 644-2662 or

Writer: Mary Ann Van Osdell (318) 741-7430, ext. 1104 or  

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