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Treatment process opens new market

by | Nov 24, 2021

ELKTON, Md. — A new, clean, energy-efficient log treatment technology produced a test log shipment in Maryland, potentially making the state a global link in the veneer log market.
The technology, developed for pre-shipment and quarantine log treatment, prepared a test shipment on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Mill Creek Lumber/Polo Pallet Manufacturing Company.
National, state, regional and county stakeholders attended the test, which is anticipated to have a far-reaching impact on the forest product industry at large. 
The new log treatment is a steam-based, non-chemical alternative to a fumigant called methyl bromide.
Methyl bromide, a chemical used to control pests in agriculture and shipping, was identified as an ozone-depleting pollutant nearly two decades ago, and was phased out by the United States and the European Union for most uses, with log quarantine and pre-shipment as notable exceptions. 
“Vacuum steam treatment for export logs will help open markets again to countries in Europe and other locations where methyl bromide treated logs have been banned from being imported,” said Ron Mack, commodity treatment specialist for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“Test shipments that demonstrate quality of the process to industry and regulatory authorities will help place the technology in use in the near future.”
After more than ten years of research by Virginia Tech and the USDA Forest Service, the technology is getting tested as a commercially viable solution to an industry problem.
Its revolutionary process employs the application of steam and vacuum. Methyl bromide, previously used for log export sanitization, will be replaced with this more environmentally-conscious and practical science.  
The steam/vacuum technology system is designed to be scalable for the forest product and agricultural industries, as it’s portable or stationary and chemical-free.
According to the Maryland Department of Commerce, forest products represent the fifth largest industry in the state of Maryland, so the safety and accessibility of the technology could significantly benefit family farms.
 Don Beazley, whose Mill Creek lumberyard was the site of the log test, said he is excited about the treatment’s potential impact on small business exports.
“The science behind the process has taken years to develop, but the system itself is simple to use,” he said. “Its adaptability to different wood products, including the pallets we produce, can bring about new export opportunities to Maryland’s small businesses.”
At the Nov. 10 test, a test shipment of logs was prepared at the Mill Creek lumber site, consisting of two 20-foot containers filled with 8-foot white oak veneer logs. One container of treated logs and one container of untreated logs will ship from the Port of Baltimore to the Danzer Veneer Bohemia Mill in Melnick, Czech Republic. 
The test shipment itself is a collaboration between the Upper Shore Regional Council, the Danzer Veneer Americas, Mill Creek and Virginia Tech. Funding support is from the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund. This is the first of three quality tests slated for the steam vacuum log treatment system to take place at Mill Creek Lumber/Polo Pallet Manufacturing in Elkton.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to balance sustainability with economic viability,” said Susan O’Neill, executive director of USRC. “But with dedicated collaborators from the Upper Shore, state, higher education, and private industry partners, we can pave a way forward.”
In 2016, the Port of Baltimore closed its fumigation facility and prohibited exports using methyl bromide, following its classification as an air pollutant by the State of Maryland. As a result, veneer log exporters sought out fumigation facilities in neighboring states.
Thus, there’s optimism about the technology’s potential to revive revenue in this sector. 
“This is a key moment for international commerce in Maryland,” said Kelly M. Schulz, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce. “This innovative technology process will reestablish Maryland and the Port of Baltimore as a destination for veneer log exports, which is a billion-dollar industry in the United States.”
William P. Doyle, executive director for the Maryland Port Administration added the Port of Baltimore is already one of the top ports in the nation for handling forest products.
“Using this new environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient technology is great news and will help us attract new business opportunities and generate additional jobs,” Doyle said.
After arriving in the Czech Republic, the white oak veneer logs will be inspected, tested, and sliced.
Upon inspection, the quality and yield of the treated logs will be compared to the untreated logs to determine any impact of the treatment on the product itself. When the test period concludes in early 2022, the results will be documented and published.
“A recently drafted Economic Adjustment Strategy identified development of this technology as a critical component of retaining and growing Maryland’s forest-based industries,” said Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources. “We were pleased to support this initiative recognizing steam vacuum treatment as an environmentally-friendly method to get Maryland products to the market, potentially through our own ports.”
Marshall White, who leads the research team from Virginia Tech, said he is thankful for the support of USRC to help advance this technology to commercialization. “I believe the Mill Creek Lumber/PoloPallet, Danzer Veneer, USRC, and Virginia Tech collaboration will lead to economic development opportunities for the region. We look forward to future collaborations.”


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