A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Malaysia courtesy of the Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) as a panelist in their "Dialogue on Requirement for Timber Legality Verification in the Global Market" and to attend their first-ever Global WoodMart trade show. I have to say that the show was pretty impressive for a first-time event, bringing together both Malaysian exporters and international timber companies from around the world. (I'm told there were 108 exhibitors and over 2000 visitors from fifty different countries. I saw about a dozen flooring companies from several countries, including several U.S. lumber and flooring exporters.) The show went very smoothly, and the energy on the floor was quite good. Their next show will be in 2012, and I am sure it will attract even more exhibitors and visitors.
Now, whenever you are in Malaysia, for a future Global WoodMart or any other reason, be sure to visit FRIM, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia. It is just 20-30 minutes outside Kuala Lumpur and well worth battling any traffic to get there.
FRIM has multiple mandates, including showcasing how natural forests regenerate after selective harvesting. They have a lovely second-growth forest that you can take guided walks through. It was wonderful to see some commercial species that I had previously only seen as logs or lumber or flooring growing tall. There is an optional canopy walk (if you can make the steep hike uphill to get there!), where you can stand on rocking suspension bridges and admire both the upper canopy of the forest and the sight of KL in the distance.
FRIM is more than a tourist destination, however. They are working on developing new uses for a variety of plant products. They have programs working on utilizing trees and other plants more efficiently in food products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and of course, building materials. One of their biggest programs in the field of building products is developing uses for palm oil trees.
How many of you remember when old rubberwood trees were just burned?
How many of you remember when old rubberwood trees were just burned? People planted rubberwood to harvest latex-the wood fiber had no value. When the trees stopped producing sufficient latex (at ages 25-30), they were burned and a fresh crop was planted. Now rubberwood lumber is used in flooring, furniture and cabinetry and is one of Asia's most popular species for general production.
Palm oil trees may be the next rubberwood. Malaysia (and Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries) all host extensive palm oil plantations. Like rubberwood, palms have a limited productive life. But no one wants to see them burned now, adding to the carbon pollution in the atmosphere and wasting that biomass. FRIM and other organizations are busy finding alternative uses for the non-producing palms.
Some of the building products under development include flooring, MDF (made in part from the fronds, not just the trunks) and furniture. If successful in developing quality finished products, palms will become a tremendous resource for Asia-providing oil for many years and then being utilized from frond to trunk in building materials.
Other programs to watch include developments in bamboo usage, DNA testing to track illegal logging, and heat treatment technology. More information on these programs and FRIM's other research is available on their website.
Next week, let's take a (literal) look at the Malaysian jungle.