Because of its name, the Department of Science and Technology’s Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI) – is sometimes misunderstood as being anti-environment. Some people think that the agency’s mandate promotes deforestation, the alleged culprit behind the devastating floods that hit the country in 2020.
It is not true, of course, that the Institute endorses deforestation. While it did study premium timber and catered to the needs of the forest-using industries during its earlier years, it began in the 1980s to study other related natural products. As the country’s wood supply began to dwindle due to reckless logging, the agency had to look for substitute raw materials for its clients in the housing, pulp and paper, handicrafts and furniture sectors.
Substitute raw materials
Thus, over the next decades, DOST-FPRDI researchers have probed all kinds of possible replacement to forest timber. These include bamboo; industrial tree plantation species (ITPS); senile coconut wood and rubber wood; abaca; and agricultural residues such as coconut coir, tobacco stalks, tea leaves, corn stalk and rice straw. They have also studied fiber plants, dye plants, forest woody vines, as well as tree gums, resins, oils and exudates, among others.
“Because of our name, our work has sometimes been misunderstood by the public, and even by policy makers,” says Institute Director Romulo T. Aggangan. “During Senate Budget Hearings, some lawmakers would ask about the relevance of what we do, considering that the country has very little forest cover left, and these have already been made off-limits to all kinds of logging. We then have to explain to them what we do and what we have done so far.”
Tree plantation species, lumber dryer, moisture meter
Over the years, DOST-FPRDI wood anatomists, chemists, and forest products engineers have studied the properties and uses of 15 kinds of industrial tree plantation species (ITPS), such as falcata and gmelina. Because of this, many managers in the wood-based industries now understand how to saw, machine, dry, finish, and treat these non-forest raw materials. Fast-cycle trees grown in plantations are good substitutes to forest timber for construction and many other industrial uses.
Another contribution is the furnace-type lumber dryer (FTLD). Explains Aggangan, “This is like a big oven which can dry natural raw materials fast and right, resulting in quality wooden furniture which don’t shrink or crack, and handicrafts which are not attacked by molds.
In 2018, Connor Group, one of the world's top merchandise-sourcing firms hailed the Institute for its role in raising the quality of Philippine handicraft exports thru the FTLD.
“Another helpful technology is the low-cost wood moisture meter which helps our clients know how much water a piece wood contains. This is important to ensure the quality finished product,” says Aggangan.
In recent years, the Institute has trained countless aspiring business people on handmade papermaking, innovated wine barrels from tree plantation species, and developed machines for making engineered bamboo, one of the promising housing materials in the country today. It has also set up a state-of-the-art processing plant for converting old and unproductive rubberwood into quality furniture – a big help to rubber farmers in Zamboanga Sibugay.
At present, it is studying how to optimize the abaca fiber for making high-end industrial products, how to upgrade our bamboo musical instruments, how to make the most of forest woody vines as handicraft raw materials, among others, and how to develop fragrances and flavors from forest products.
DOST-FPRDI likewise runs world class testing laboratories for furniture, plywood, pulp and paper, and also conducts wood identification, physical and mechanical properties, and biomass energy tests on forest-based and related products.
“Come to think of it, our name is a misnomer,” says Aggangan. “It doesn’t exactly reflect who we are, because we do so much more than study ‘forest products’. We do not study forest timber anymore, but instead look for ways to wisely use many native plants and related natural materials to meet our clients’ needs. Much of what we do shows our aim to help protect – and not destroy – the planet.”
For example, he explains, in its bamboo projects, the Institute not only supports the bamboo-based industry, it also promotes bamboo farming. Putting up more plantations worldwide can help stabilize the earth’s climate by limiting the effects of global warming. More than any other plant, it can absorb massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere which is a major cause of global warming.
“The same is true with tree plantation species,” he adds. “As we do more studies on them, we promote the setting up of more tree farms and the use of products harvested from them, which are known to be effective carbon absorbers.”
In their current projects, Aggangan adds, DOST-FPRDI researchers are looking for more earth-friendly ways of doing things – for example, more energy-efficient sawmilling, drying and machining methods, and less toxic methods of preserving wood.
“In the coming years,” ends Aggangan, “we will continue to work towards the competitiveness of our client industries while promoting sustainability. These two things – competitiveness and sustainability – should always go together. No matter how fantastic, scientific innovations will mean nothing if they damage the environment.” ### (Rizalina K. Araral, 22 February 2021)