Can old oil palm wood be converted into high-value wood products?

“PalmwoodNet”, an international network that examines how oil palm trees can be recycled for wood products, will present their results for the first time at LIGNA 2017.

The network studies how unproductive, over-aged oil palms can be converted into high value-added products such as one-layer and multi-layer panels, block boards, glulam and cross laminated timber (CLT) in Thailand and Malaysia. 

It also explores how tropical forest resources can be conserved and used sustainably in climate change mitigation, as well as how jobs and new markets can be developed. Only certified sustainable plantations were considered for the project.

“PalmwoodNet” is supported by companies Jowat, Minda Industrieanlagen, Möhringer, Leitz, Oberkochen, Boehlerit and Palmwood R+D, Freiburg. Universities, woodworking companies and plantation holders were also part of the project. Leitz and Boehlerit for example, studied efficient cutting processes and developed suitable cutting tools to achieve the required quality and yield.

The PPP-Project “Oil Palm Wood“ is sponsored by DEG (Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH) with funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

A three-layer board made from oil palm wood

High density oil palm wood structure

About oil palm wood

Oil palm plantations amount to almost 50 million acres worldwide. Palm oil plantations are cleared and replanted in 25-year cycles, resulting in large volumes of waste oil palm wood, estimated at 120 million cubic metres annually, across Asia, Africa and South America.

Oil palm wood is not recycled for high-value wood because of the trunk’s density distribution, high moisture content and significant difference in structure and properties compared to regular wood species.

However, the decreasing availability of timber from natural forests and relatively small volumes harvested from plantations (e.g. Rubberwood, Acacia mangium) have begun to cause raw material shortages, aggravating illegal logging.

Pilot studies have shown great potential for oil palm trunks to be converted into usable products, although none have been commercialised yet.