Microwave Drying of Timber Could Revolutionise Industry

The development of a new microwave technology for drying wood could revolutionise the timber industry and lead to cheaper wood in the future.

The revolutionary wood drying technology, which has been developed by scientists at the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Wood Innovations, combines microwave technology with more traditional drying techniques, such as solar drying or kiln drying, to speed up the time it takes to dry timber.

The CRC for Wood Innovations is a joint collaboration between research institutes including the University of Melbourne, Swinburne University of Technology, Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Forest Products Commission (WA), CSIRO Manufacturing and Infrastructure Technology and Furntech (Tasmania). A number of industry partners are also involved in the CRC.

University of Melbourne researcher Mr. Graham Brodie says, “At present it can take a year or more to convert some Australian timber into top quality furniture or flooring. Much of this time is needed to dry the wood after it has been sawn.”

“The new technique can reduce the drying time to a matter of months or less.”

Work on the drying technique has been in progress for several years and members of the CRC team are currently running pilot microwave conditioning and drying trials on commercial timbers.

“A brief burst of high powered microwave energy before drying drastically shortens timber-drying time without changing the visual appearance of the wood”, says Mr. Brodie, who was recently named as one of 16 finalists in the national Fresh Science Awards.

“Quicker drying means increased processing rate and reduced costs for the timber industry. These potential savings could be passed onto customers, making wood cheaper and more consistent in quality.”

The microwave treatment also makes the wood more permeable, making wood processing such as preservative treatment more rapid.

“Microwave processing allows timber to be impregnated with resins or preservative to improve its strength, stability and durability,” says Professor Peter Vinden, CEO of CRC Wood Innovations. “Microwave technology enables acceleration of preservative treatment to a few minutes, and generates a more environmentally friendly product.”

Earlier experiments used a modified domestic microwave oven and a home made solar drier to treat small pieces of wood. The CRC microwave team has graduated to commercial scale microwave generators, which are many times more powerful, to treat much larger pieces of wood. A new microwave generator that has 300 times the power of a domestic microwave oven is currently under construction

“We hope that this technology will become a commercial reality soon,” Professor Vinden says.

For more information on microwave processing, click here.

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