There is an old saying that nothing is created in a vacuum, but
Queensland Government forestry scientists have found vacuum
drying hardwoods could potentially save the timber industry $24
million a year in processing costs.
Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) scientist Adam Redman said the results of a three year collaborative study had found vacuum drying could significantly increase forestry industry profit margins.
"A reduction of 50 per cent in current industry drying times, with a five per cent improvement in dried quality, equates to around a $24 million* profit per year for the Queensland hardwood industry.
"It is a relatively new process in Australia where only a very small number of the vacuum driers are currently operating.
"Industry wanted to know more about the benefits before committing to this technology, which is widey used in the USA and Europe."
Mr Redman said the first 14 of 16 trials had been completed, drying native forest Queensland Corymbia citriodora, New South Wales Eucalyptus pilularis, Western Australian Eucalyptus marginata and Tasmanian Eucalyptus obliqua.
"Using a 2 m2 capacity superheated steam vacuum kiln located at the Salisbury Research Centre in Brisbane, the study involves predicting drying schedules and drying times based on wood properties and kiln conditions," he said.
"Results of these trials have shown that drying times for Australian hardwood species can be reduced by 40 to 70 per cent, depending on the species, and with the same or better dried quality than conventional methods."
Mr Redman said drying timber to produce material for high quality applications was an expensive and time-consuming process.
"Often referred to as the 'bottleneck' of the production process, drying generally takes up to 90 per cent of the production time and 70 per cent of production costs," he said.
"Our results show that vacuum drying technology, being faster and more economical with less impact on the environment has great potential to optimise future industry processing behaviour."
Mr Redman said the vacuum drying research formed part of a three-year national collaborative research project led by DEEDI and supported by leading industry representatives from across Australia and Forest and Wood Products Australia.
"Our focus of research is to continue modelling effective drying techniques that will be essential for current and future refractory native forest and emerging plantation Queensland hardwood species."
As part of the Toward Q2, Tomorrow's Queensland vision, the Queensland Government is committed to the development of a diverse Queensland economy.
"Through our forestry research and development innovations, the Queensland Government is contributing to the long term sustainability and growth of Queensland's primary industries," Mr Redman said.
For more information on Queensland's innovative forestry research, call DEEDI's Business Information Centre on 13 25 23 or visit www.deedi.qld.gov.au
graphics above right:
1: Vacuum drying kiln, located at Salisbury Research Station, Brisbane
2: Agri-Science Queensland scientist Adam Redman monitors the moisture content of boards to determine experimental completion
*According to 2008 Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) forest and wood products statistics.
Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation
8 March 2011
Vacuum drying the way to go for timber industry