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February 2014

OSB and foam structural insulated panel / Biomass from mechanical thinning / Log home building

OSB and foam structural insulated panel aiming for building code acceptance

By Tony Kryzanowski

Research and testing is now being done to develop a technical guide to garner possible National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) acceptance for a composite building material called a structural insulated panel (SIP) consisting of a foam interior with oriented strandboard (OSB) as the only structural wood component around the exterior.

One style of SIP has a foam interior with two OSB panels on each side for support.

This work is being conducted over three years by Dr. Jon Makar at the National Research Council Canada (NRC), and is partially funded by Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio) through its Bioindustrial Research and Innovation program. The program supports research on new green building products.

SIPs are a factory-produced, alternative building material suitable for the floor, wall and roof assemblies of buildings. While some SIPs have studs on their sides, the ones in this project are solely supported by the OSB facer panels.

According to Natural Resources Canada studies, SIPs offer up to 50 per cent energy savings compared to conventional construction. Because the panels are manufactured in a plant, there is less on site waste generated during building construction, Additionally, manufacturers can speed up production of these SIPs because there are no studs being used, the SIPs are lighter, and on-site assembly takes less time requiring less skilled labor than traditional frame construction.

Before being tested for compliance with the NBCC, a technical guide needs to be developed for this SIP design for the Canadian Construction Materials Centre (CCMC), which is part of NRC. Its mandate is to evaluate construction products for NBCC compliance for all Canadian provinces.

Because of its construction design, acceptance of this SIP model within the NBCC could significantly benefit Alberta’s oriented strandboard (OSB) industry. Not only will it encourage more widespread SIP use in Canada, but SIP use in the United States is dominated by designs with no solid wood studs within their core.

Manufacturers and suppliers for this product have wanted to develop this technical guide since the mid-1990s, says Dr. Makar, but unlike evaluations of other building materials, developing the guide is complicated and requires significant financial support.

The technical work is now underway with financial backing from AI Bio, six SIP manufacturers, polystyrene and polyurethane foam manufacturers, an adhesive manufacturer, and two OSB suppliers, one being Ainsworth Engineered LLP. Ainsworth operates two, large oriented strandboard facilities in Alberta.

“When you look at these panels, you are doubling the use of OSB per square foot of wall because you have it on the inside and outside of the panel,” says Makar. “So as use grows, there is potential to grow the OSB market.” It also creates a market for a different type of OSB, as the OSB material used in SIP construction is specially engineered for this use.

Ken Lau, Director of Technical Services at Ainsworth Engineered Canada LP, says the company’s main motivation for supporting this research is to promote innovation and new use of OSB in building construction throughout North America. In gaining potential acceptance within the NBCC, it could lead to more SIP usage in building construction, and thereby increase market share for the company. More stringent energy codes are also encouraging builders to investigate alternative building materials like SIPs, with their ability to produce more energy efficient buildings.

“Nobody has done the long term performance tests for mechanical performance and durability for this SIP design that are needed to meet the requirements of the National Building Code,” says Dr. Makar. “The project is important because it is solving a longstanding problem for the industry. It is also going to help the industry develop this market because code officials will have a standardized process for evaluating these products, and making sure they conform to the Building Code.”

In addition to preparing the guide, Dr. Makar’s research group will be pursuing opportunities for technology transfer related to the use of the panels by the construction industry. The project will be developing and releasing, in concert with industry, technical reports and documentation that can be used by different industry professionals.

One style of SIP has a foam interior with two OSB panels on each side for support.

For more information about the SIP research program, contact Dr. Jonathan Makar at (613) 993-3797 or

BiomassBiomass from mechanical thinning a potential biofuel resource

By Tony Kryzanowski

The mechanical thinning of juvenile trees in high density softwood and hardwood stands represents an opportunity not only to enhance the productivity of managed stands, but also an opportunity for acquiring a new source of wood biomass, says the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).

Lodgepole pine, 19 years post-thinning.

“It has been tested and proven that mechanical strip thinning can enhance growth potential by knocking back the densities and enhancing the vigour of the stands, making them less vulnerable to environmental risks such as insects, disease and fire,” says Derek Sidders, Regional Coordinator and Program Manager for CWFC.

He adds that by removing the juvenile trees, this also creates the potential to shorten the rotation for the remaining trees, so they can achieve merchantability and increase their product values sooner. This potential exists for numerous forest types in Canada when this silvicultural treatment is applied, says Sidders.

The machines used in this application are units with front-mounted mulchers and chippers.

Sidders says the new opportunity exists in the recovery of the biomass for direct bioenergy (heat and power) use, solid wood fuels such as wood pellets, pucks or logs, liquid fuels, or bio-products for landscape or site remediation.

As part of its woody biomass for bioenergy and inventory programs—as well as its wood biomass supply chain optimization program—CWFC will be conducting research and developing studies over the next two seasons testing new applications related to mechanical thinning of juvenile trees to achieve two objectives. The first objective is to develop and demonstrate techniques that enhance stand vigour by reducing density and sustainability risk; the second is to recover biomass for other values that Sidders says “should basically offset the cost of the treatment”.

BiomassLodgepole pine strip thinning 1994 in 1976 wildfire area.

Historically, there has been an issue related to wildfire or natural disturbance in Canada’s high density softwood forests, primarily with jackpine and lodgepole pine. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and forest companies, in co-operation with provincial governments in the Prairie provinces as well as the Northwest Territories, investigated techniques such as mechanical thinning to reduce the cost of brush sawing using manual labor, to try to reduce the density of these stands. This also enhanced the vigour of these stands, and reduced their risk to fires and insect infestation.

“To date, the experience shows that we can reduce the cost significantly, and we can operate in quite a variety of site conditions, harvesting juvenile wood consisting primarily of juvenile pine species less than five metres in height with densities of 20,000 to 60,000 per hectare,” says Sidders. “After 20 years of growth post strip thinning, we see risk reduction, increased vigour on the sites and they are now being treated as long-term research sites to validate that the growth response has been enhanced, and the treatment was successful and cost effective.”

He says the next phase is to develop techniques to recover the biomass removed during this type of silviculture treatment and integrating it into the feedstock supply stream for bioenergy.

Prime target sites for this treatment method are any sites with reasonable access, originating from a wildfire or natural disturbance that is regenerating with very high density softwoods.

“Our Canadian forest management practices have also created pure species-oriented softwood stands in Canada of primarily jackpine and lodgepole pine that are very high density that could also be candidates for this type of treatment,” says Sidders. “These are stands that are managed and are between the ages of eight and 20 years.”

For more information about this research program, contact Derek Sidders at (780) 435-7355 or

Log HomeLog home building ventures require careful scrutiny

By Tony Kryzanowski

Experts say that there will always be a market for people who simply want a log home versus a stick-built home. Given this demand, there may be opportunities for more Albertans to supply this market niche. Funding provided by Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, can help small-size woodlot value-added businesses to investigate this option.

"A lot of people I meet in rural Alberta have questions about opportunities in log homes," says Toso Bozic, Agroforester with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. "Managing and operating a log home enterprise requires extensive knowledge, not just related to log properties and structural design, having a good quality log supply, and having the technical skills to construct a log home. You must also be knowledgeable about other technical aspects of log home building, such as understanding building codes."

Bozic says that's where the GF2 funding initiative can help existing or start-up agri-processing and value adding businesses, to explore potential market feasibility and to answer critical questions related to log home businesses.

Notwithstanding expected building code changes, Bozic says given Alberta's forest resource—which has the logs to supply this industry—it could represent a niche business opportunity for those willing to educate themselves about the type of logs needed by this industry. They can prepare for building code changes with appropriate home designs not only to supply the domestic market, but also potentially the export market. Currently, most of the log homes built in Canada are either sold in the U.S. or Canada. It is relatively unknown what the international market demand is or what the challenges are to tap into the international market for log homes.

Bozic says a very important consideration when first starting out is where to learn the trade of log home building. While there are schools offering introductory skills training, experts say the best form of advanced log home building training is with an established log home builder. That's where the owner of Cowboy Country Log Homes in Turner Valley, Anthony Hodson, learned the trade. He worked with his father in log home building construction. The company builds handcrafted log homes, log furniture like picnic tables, and also refinishes log homes.

Hodson says that among the challenges a new Alberta log home builder may face is competition from log home builders from neighboring B.C., finding workers, and also finding the right type of logs. He says that the province could help the industry by developing some type of exchange where log home builders could connect with potential sources of logs, either from forestry companies or from private woodlot owners. A typical log home is constructed with premium logs measuring 14" to 16" in diameter.

Industry experts say a log home costs approximately 30 to 50 per cent more than building a similar stick-built home. Hodson agrees that people who choose to build a log home tend to do so because it is a lifestyle choice.

"People that want them know what they are going to cost and that's usually not the issue," he says. "Owning a log home is different and off the beaten track from all the other houses out there and I think it reminds many people about the days when they had a country cabin out by the lake when they were kids."

The challenge is to find this target audience and, again, this is where GF2 can help with market research of how to supply this industry.

Under the GF2 Business Opportunity Program, successful applicants are eligible for reimbursement of between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of certain non-capital costs related to researching and planning a new business venture.

Also under the GF2 Business Management Skills Development Program, successful applicants are eligible for reimbursement for 75 per cent of eligible costs for approved business skills development training courses.

A log building constructed by Cowboy Country Log Homes in Turner Valley, Alberta.

This article was sponsored by Growing Forward, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

For more information about the GF2 program, visit, or contact Toso Bozic at

December/january 2014

Modular and Off-Site Construction Summit /Mixed wood blocks Planting mixed-wood blocks / ForestPlan software helps increase profit margins / Recovering value loss from merchandized log processing / “Using Biomass Now” seminar

Modular constructionModular and Off-Site Construction Summit coming in May

By Tony Kryzanowski

Attendees to the upcoming 2014 Modular and Off-Site Construction Summit slated for Edmonton from May 12-14 can expect the same high quality of presenters and technology transfer potential as when the inaugural—and highly successful—2012 Summit was held.

It is being organized by a committee involved in research work supervised by the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in the Industrialization of Building Construction at the University of Alberta, which receives financial support from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions (AI Bio). The summit is also being supported and sponsored by AI Bio.

Dr. Mohamed Al-Hussein, head of the organizing committee and Industrial Research Chair, says the summit will bring together individuals from the modular and off-site construction supply chain, such as institutional and commercial building developers, representatives from modular building companies, engineers, designers, and material suppliers to learn about the latest trends and technology in this building sector and to discuss common issues.

“Attendance at the 2012 summit exceeded our expectations by as much as three-fold in every category,” says Dr. Al-Hussein. “And we noticed a good quality of attendees all the way up to senior company management.” He adds that the upcoming summit will provide the type of information the players in this area of construction are looking for related to land development, wood product use, current building technology, and potential use of modular and off-site construction in industrial, commercial and residential applications.

The summit will feature presenters giving many updates from the research program managed by the Industrial Research Chair, which is in the third year of a five year program. Several of these projects are taking place with participation from industrial partners as well as the Network for Engineered Wood-based Building Systems (NEWBuildS), which also receives financial support from AI Bio.

Dr. Al-Hussein says his research program is driven largely by the industrial and institutional partners that support the chair, aimed at both the supply chain and building innovation regarding modular and off-site construction. It revolves around nine pillars, including the development of a Building Information Modeling (BIM)-based planning process to minimize re-work and material and process waste.

Regarding the BIM-based planning process, a research project called Design and Fabrication Production Efficiency Improvement is helping to facilitate the model’s rollout to industry. The project seeks to improve the production process from design to manufacturing at a local housing manufacturing plant. In the first phase, the existing design practice was transferred from 2-D to a BIM platform, which can produce design drawings, framing details, production drawings, permit sets, and material quantity take-offs for cost estimation and material ordering. In the second research phase, the fabrication process of a number of modules will be evaluated to determine the production time, resource requirements, and productivity of component fabrication at each station.

Another of the Research Chair’s pillars is to improve productivity of the construction process through innovative manufacturing technologies. A project called Process Improvement of Semi-Automated Panelized Construction System has that in mind.

A simulation model was developed for a multi-wall production line at a wall panel fabrication plant and an optimization model was developed to find the best possible wall production sequence to maximize productivity. A time study was carried out for each station in the wall production line to develop a task-time formula to calculate the processing time for each station.

“Recent findings of this research project compare simulation results with actual production to show that productivity can be improved by up to 10 per cent by optimizing the wall panel sequence,” says Dr. Al-Hussein.

Constructing building components indoors, then assembling an entire package on site, saves considerable time and reduces on-site waste.

For more information about the 2014 Modular and Off-Site Construction Summit and the NSERC Chair research program, contact Dr. Mohamed Al-Hussein at (780) 492-0599 or

Mixed wood blocksPlanting mixed-wood blocks offers multiple economic and enviromental benefits

By Tony Kryzanowski

Both private woodlot owners and foresters working on afforested land now have a template they can follow for developing forest blocks with both hardwood and softwood components. This is through the work that the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) is doing through its Short-rotation Wood Crops systems development and national network of technical development sites.

The CWFC is demonstrating best management practices for afforestation plantation sites, with the idea of showing potential outcomes that result in hardwood and softwood fibre production that can be applied along a number of value streams—and not only provide economic value, but also an environmental dividend.

On plantation sites, the CWFC recommends and is demonstrating crops of very fast growing hybrid poplar, or hybrid aspen, or aspen under intensive management regimes, with a 15 to 20 year rotation, and simultaneously planting a tolerant softwood in the understorey, the options being white spruce, black spruce, or white pine.

For natural sites, CWFC recommends aspen as the hardwood crop under intensive management with white spruce in the understorey.

Derek Sidders, Regional Co-ordinator and Program Manager for the CWFC, says this is a “perfect opportunity” for both establishing afforestation plantations or reforestation of natural forest management stands. This is particularly so along the forest fringe to not only produce crops with multiple economic value, but also to buffer the impact of climate change on the transition zone between agriculture and the boreal plains or boreal forest belt.

Besides creating a transition zone buffer, this management regime also has other environmental benefits, such as creating fuel for potential bioenergy use as an alternative to fossil fuels, carbon capture from the atmosphere, reducing the risk of insect infestation because of multiple species planted within the same management block, and also reducing the potential forest fire risk. Habitat biodiversity is also a benefit from mixes of this nature.

“In this scenario, we end up with multiple values,” says Sidders. “The hardwood value produced in less than 20 years could become pulp or oriented strandboard as well as energy, and obviously it sequesters carbon, manages moisture and ecological diversity. The tolerant softwoods in the understorey will probably be recovered 40 to 60 years after their release, at which point they will be high value, and there will be opportunities for sawlogs, pulp, other dimensional materials, as well as bioproducts.”

Mixed-wood afforested sites offer both economic and environmental dividends.

Fast growing hybrid poplar (above) will dominate a mixed-wood afforested site and can be harvested before the white spruce understorey becomes dominant, thus creating two valuable crops from the same site.

For more detailed information about how to effectively apply this afforest mixed-wood management regime and/or book a tour of CWFC demonstration sites, contact Derek Sidders at (780) 435-7355 or or CWFC Wood Fibre Development Specialist Tim Keddy at (780) 435-7212 or

FPDat and FPTrack: Implementing performance in heavy machinery across Canada

Delivered wood fibre typically represents between 50 to 60 percent of production costs at most Canadian softwood sawmills, and between 25 to 40 per cent at pulp and paper mills. Any improvement in the highly capital intensive forest-to-mills supply chain will increase the competitiveness of traditional industries while supporting the emerging bioeconomy.

Supporting the sector in this endeavor, FPInnovations has developed an integrated monitoring platform that aims at optimizing harvesting and transportation operations. Part of a set of tools called FPSuite, FPDat is a rugged on-board computer for heavy machinery that collects data concerning equipment performance and productivity with potential applications in forest, mining or construction operations. FPDat provides an advanced GPS navigation system and gathers data to keep operators and managers informed in real-time through FPTrack, a data management website, about utilization, fuel consumption, treated areas, GPS track logs, productivity and the causes of downtime.

Testimonials from FPDat users report efficiency improvements ranging between 5 to 10 per cent. For typical forest machines, such as feller-bunchers, this can represent savings of up to $0.75 to $0.90 per m³.

The FPDat/FPTrack platform has no equivalent in the market. Companies only interested in specific features, such as navigation, will indeed find cheaper systems, but none that automatically communicates integrated spatial and production data with the manager’s office and support the creation of customized reports.

One of the barriers to the widespread implementation of FPDat lies perhaps in the wide variety of needs within the logging industry. Nonetheless, more than 300 FPDat units are already in use across Canada and as additional modules are being developed, such as the Transport and the Grader modules, and interest in the system is steadily growing. The estimated demand within Canada for FPDat is between 1,000 and 1,500 systems with an additional 2,500 to 5,000 units for the Transport Module. It is not unreasonable to think sales and monthly service revenues could exceed $6 million.

For more information, please contact Jean-François Gingras at or 514-782-4543.

Forestplan softwareForestPlan software helps increase profit margins for forest products industry

FPInnovations’ ForestPlan software has the potential to increase profit margins by as much as 15 per cent for the forest products industry.

In other industries such as health care, manufacturing and transportation, similar optimization and company-wide planning software is already being used, according to Joel Mortyn, FPInnovations’ Modeling and Optimization Senior Scientist. But the forest products industry, particularly in Canada, has been slow to apply optimization techniques at the corporate planning level.

“Canada’s forest products industry is very diverse compared with managed forests elsewhere in the world and companies have been hesitant to adopt this type of software as they are skeptical that it can account for all of the variability,” said Mortyn. “However, this thinking is wrong. The variability creates more opportunities to find value gains”.

A joint project of FPInnovations and Dalhousie University, the ForestPlan software is a mathematical planning model that accounts for harvest, log allocation, transportation, manufacturing and sales data when determining the most efficient and profitable operating plan for the business. The system uses this information, along with any operational constraints input by the user, to generate a value-chain optimization plan, exportable into Excel or Access.

The plan identifies which cut blocks to harvest, which sorts to produce at each cut block, where to allocate log sorts, what cutting programs to run at each mill and the number of shifts to run at each mill. Once an optimal plan is found, users can quickly run additional “what-if” scenarios to determine the impact of adding or removing constraints—more manufacturing capacity, less demand for certain products, changing market prices, and harvesting a different log profile.

“It is this ability to measure the value implications of decisions at the company-wide level that makes ForestPlan an incredibly valuable decision support system,” Mortyn said. FPInnovations has successfully conducted two ForestPlan trials with B.C.-based forest products companies.

“Both trials showed significant value,” Mortyn added. “The trials really showed the benefit of optimizing the entire supply chain, rather than just planning at the individual business unit level. Several opportunities were identified and shared with the collaborating companies.”

To find out more about ForestPlan or learn about contract opportunities, contact Joel Mortyn at or 604-222-5604.

Recovering valueRecovering value loss from merchandized log processing

Recovering the highest possible value from each tree cut is an ongoing goal of FPInnovations’ harvesting research program. Mechanized processing is one of the most important harvesting phases where value can be recovered or lost. Recent work identified how processing errors are causing value loss, and made recommendations on how to reduce these losses.

Losses of $1.67/m3 due to log processing errors were identified in a study of logs delivered to a dryland sort at one coastal British Columbia operation. This is almost two per cent of the log value that is available for recovery.

Recovering valueThe reasons for the value loss were categorized and quantified in the study. Cutting diameters that were too small and missing defects were the largest contributors. Other minor culprits included length errors, sorting errors, missing high quality logs, and mechanical damage.

A survey of the processor fleet included length and diameter measuring accuracy tests and showed opportunities for improvement.

The study of logs delivered at the dryland sort showed that remanufacturing of logs at the sort can recover $1.39/m3 of lost value. A total of seven recommendations were made to help operators improve value recovery at the processor. These included better calibration of machines, more education for operators, development of easy reference guides, and improvements in delimbing knife inspection and sharpening schedules. Consideration of advanced software features was also recommended.

For more information on recovering value loss from merchandized log processing, contact Brian Boswell at or 604-222-5734.

Stephen Bearr“Using Biomass Now” seminar attracts quality audience of potential system developers

By Tony Kryzanowski

The recent Using Biomass Now seminar hosted in Edmonton by the Agroforestry & Woodlot Extension Society (AWES) attracted a number of municipal government leaders and administrators with an interest in smaller scale, community-type heating and power generation opportunities using biomass.

“The Town of High Level has actually been working on its own system since about 2010,” said Simone Wiley, Interim Town Manager and Director of Development for High Level. “We’ve gone through a couple of feasibility studies already and we have a combined heat and power system where we are almost at the detailed design phase.”

Fink Machine Inc. representative Stephen Bearrs meets with an AWES seminar attendee to discuss the company’s Viessmann-KOB bioenergy system.

The town has a ready source of woody biomass, with a large local sawmill still disposing of its residues in a beehive burner. Wiley says Town Council and local residents want to change that, with a community heat and power system that would provide heat to three schools, the hospital, arena, swimming pool, and all municipal buildings.

Jeff Renton, AWES project manager, says Wiley is an example of exactly the type of attendee they were hoping to attract to the seminar.

“We wanted to reach potential users of the technology and demonstrate that the technology and support exists to develop the supply chain required to feed biomass operations,” he says.

Speakers at the AWES seminar focused on two critical issues when it comes to smaller scale biomass-fuel heat and power projects: finding a secure, economical source of biomass and selecting the right biomass-fueled system.

“If you look around the world, a lot of the failures of bioenergy projects have been because they haven’t paid enough attention to the fibre supply, both in terms of cost and volume,” said Mark Ryan, Research Manager at FPInnovations, in his presentation titled, Biomass Supply for Smaller Scale Bioenergy Systems.

While it is possible that a community could be lucky enough to acquire enough volume from one or two woody biomass sources, he added that it is more likely that planners will have to tap into multiple sources, as well as various types of biomass such as sawmill residues, forest harvesting residues, clean and combustible municipal wood waste, non-utilized timber like mountain pine beetle-killed wood, and fire smart forest residues. He emphasized that there is no such thing as “free” wood; despite the potential for low cost sources, there are still costs to acquire, process, and store that wood prior to use. Also, it is likely that planners will be limited to sources within about a 100 to 200 kilometre radius from the boiler for its use to be economical.

Two other important issues to consider are assessing the quality of the wood source as a fuel and assessing its moisture content, as many boilers have restrictions on the fuel’s moisture content to function properly.

In terms of finding biomass sources, Bruce Duggan, Director of the Buller Centre for Business at Providence College in Manitoba, presented and demonstrated the value of an online biomass brokerage site they have developed. With the brokerage site, individuals and communities can investigate a wide variety of potential sources of biomass within their geographic area. It can be accessed on the Internet at The college has a biomass-fueled district heating system for three of its buildings, displacing about 80 per cent of its natural gas consumption.

“Now that we have a biomass system, the challenge is to find a consistent, usable source of fuel,” Duggan said. As part of its own efforts, the college decided to try to help others find a consistent source with the development of its online Biomass Brokerage.

Once a consistent biomass source has been identified, the next step is to select the right small scale bioenergy technology. Stephen Bearss, renewable energy representative with Fink Machine Inc, and marketer of the Viessmann-KOB bioenergy system, provided seminar attendees with a snapshot of the variety of bioenergy systems the company has already installed, demonstrating that smaller scale technology is proven and is being applied successfully throughout Canada.

Bearss says the company recently completed its 60th installation, providing a biomass-based heating system to a secondary school on Vancouver Island.

“I just want to assure those who have to sign on the dotted line for these kinds of systems that they are common, they are abundant, and if you can align yourselves with a wood fuel supplier, they are very trustworthy systems,” he said.

Fink Machine Inc. representative Stephen Bearrs meets with an AWES seminar attendee to discuss the company’s Viessmann-KOB bioenergy system.

For more information about topics covered at the AWES seminar, contact Folkert Hoekstra at (587) 436-1646 or, or Jeff Renton at (780) 643-6732 or