A researcher in Northern British Columbia may have found a new use for trees that have been killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
Sorin Pasca, originally from Romania, has created an alternative to plywood and gypsum, using cement and wood chips from trees killed by the pine beetle — lodgepole pine.
Pasca began his research over three years ago, after he came to B.C. to continue his post-graduate studies in forestry at the University of Northern British Columbia.
“I noted the big issue was the epidemic with all the beetle killed wood, and I shifted a little bit from forestry towards wood products, trying to find something useful for the beetle wood,” he explained.
In the lab, he experimented with different ratios of cement and wood chip mixtures, poured the combinations into a mold and left them to set. The result was a board that looks like a hybrid of plywood and concrete: pale grey with chunks of wood.
Pasca says the product — which he refers to as pine cement composite — is water-resistant and stronger than similar products on the market today, and even though it’s part cement, can be nailed or cut with normal woodworking tools.
The composite is considered remarkable because typically, cement repels organic matter.
“Mixing wood and cement is not like a normal thing… most of the species are not suitable to be mixed with cement, because wood is an organic material,” said Pasca.
He explained that wood contains sugars and other extractives, which normally inhibit an important chemical reaction known as cement hydration. But lodgepole pine has a lower level of extractives, and there is an additional drop in moisture content when the tree is killed, which makes lodgepole pine the ideal wood to combine with cement.
“Definitely one of the most exciting moments was when I found that the wood was compatible with cement… that was actually a big relief for me, because otherwise everything would have been in vain.”
Pasca says the finished product isn’t quite as strong as concrete, as wood is weaker than typical mineral aggregate that is used to make concrete.
“But I’m not looking at this product like a replacement for concrete, I’m looking at it for interior applications as a building material.”
Originally, he intended to create an alternative to drywall or gypsum board, but now, he believes the product may have other interior uses.
“…Now that the research is complete, we’re seeing all kinds of additional applications, from countertops to flooring,” Pasca said in a press release issued last month. “It’s a beautiful product that combines all of the structural advantages of concrete with the aesthetic quality of wood.”