Profile: National Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life

Now in its fourth year of operation, the National Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life continues to make a positive impact on furthering research efforts in Australia. Professor Jeff Morrell, Director at the centre, shares the latest updates on the activities of the growing team.

The centre, which is led by FWPA, is an innovative partnership between industry, academia and government, designed to put Australia at the forefront of international best practice. It uses evidence-based data, systems and tools to underpin consumer confidence in the performance of timber products.

The centre was established in 2016 at the University of the Sunshine Coast and has made significant progress in building links between industry, academia and customers, nationally and internationally. Based at the University of the Sunshine Coast, the centre takes a national and international approach. Other partners include the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF).

A growing team

Professor Jeff Morrell, a distinguished academic from Oregon State University and former president of the American Wood Protection Association, was appointed as the centre’s director in 2018.

“Since assuming this role I have had the opportunity to go out and meet with industry stakeholders face-to-face, visiting their facilities, and discussing their priorities and needs. These insights have proven invaluable when working to identify research priorities and pathways that will provide the most value to as many stakeholders as possible,” Professor Morrell said.

One of the main purposes of the centre has been to reinvigorate Australian research, and to help make sure the next generation is properly equipped to conduct effective timber treatment and durability work.

“Wood durability is a long-term game. You don’t do things in two or three years. You do them in increments of five, ten, fifteen years, because that’s how long it can take for various changes to have an impact,” Professor Morrell explained.

“Universities tend to plan research with long-term benefits, while industry is more concerned with finding solutions to more immediate problems. By working together, we can support both of these approaches.”

During the past two years, the team has continued to expand. Dr Babar Hassan has joined as Research Fellow, bringing with him extensive experience in termite biology. He is actively engaged in several projects, including working with the CSIRO to update existing termite risk maps in light of reports that some termite species are moving south, as well as developing a major review of termite testing methods. The outcomes of this work will support the industry to improve decision-making around pest mitigation strategies.

PhD students Tengfei Yi and Linda Moss have also become heavily involved with a number of important projects since joining the team. Yi is engaged in an assessment of the use of nano-metals for the surface protection of timber against weathering, while Moss is involved with work around decay processes in various timber species being examined at a new accelerated exposure test facility near Nambour, Queensland.

Recruiting for additional students to further strengthen the capacity of the centre has been delayed due to COVID-19, but the centre is expected to have its full complement of students by early next year.

Collaborative partnerships

The centre is working with the University of Tasmania (UTAS) under the National Institute for Forest Products (NIFPI) program to evaluate methods of enhancing the durability of plantation and native forest hardwoods.

Meanwhile, work with the NIFPI Hub at the University of South Australia (UniSA) has resulted in an ongoing assessment of the variations in treatability across Australia’s pine resource, to help guide future treatment efforts.

The centre’s UQ partners are focusing on a number of areas relating to fire performance and the effects of fungal attack on timber properties, including preliminary studies on the performance of several Far North Queensland timbers. The results of this work will help to instil confidence around the use of timber by the construction industry, and provide insights into how and where it can most appropriately be used.

Meanwhile, the centre’s QDAF partnership has resulted in research on:

  • the marine performance of certain new treatments
  • the performance of above-ground decking systems for the development of better predictive service-life models
  • the potential for using portable X-ray analysers for rapid assessment of the retention of preservatives amongst trees in the field.

The QDAF also completed a survey of moisture issues in mass timber buildings, as a precursor to research around the movement of moisture through various wood-based composites. This work will help to provide reassurance and guidance to the construction industry around the use of timber.

Looking forward, the QDAF has initiated a large-scale field trial which is nearing installation, for the collection of data that will be used to improve CSIRO prediction models around the service life of timber building elements. This project will also provide comparative performance data on various newer materials, including thermally modified timber and acetylated timber, enabling specifiers to make more informed decisions in the future.

“The centre is well on its way to meeting its main objectives of revitalising timber durability research, while helping to educate a new generation of researchers on the associated issues,” Professor Morrell said.

“Thanks to the great work we’ve already been involved with, we are rapidly developing a reputation amongst the forest and wood products industry, as well as the construction and engineering industries, as a trusted source of expertise on all matters relating to timber durability.”