Using moist Eucalyptus for structural timber

January 12, 2015

An innovative Tzaneen entrepreneur has developed a method of using moist Eucalyptus timber to produce structural timber at competitive prices.

Biligom timber used in roof trusses.

The process, believed to be a world first, has been developed by Spencer Drake of Biligom International (Pty) Ltd, who has registered a patent on the process and product which, he says, competes favourably in the local market with SA pine in terms of both price and quality.

Biligom timber is treated with Tanalith ‘E’ to H3 SANS 1288 specs, and has been graded to S7 by South African Technical Auditing Service (SATAS), which meets international strength and safety requirement for structural timber.

According to Spencer, the product, which sells at approximately the same price as grade S5 pine, has a number of advantages:

The timber is sourced from E. grandis and G x C hybrids grown on a 6-8 year rotation. Compare this with the 25-30 year rotation for pine saw timber. This opens new horizons for Eucalyptus growers who are supplying traditional markets at low prices.

It takes just one day from sawlogs collected in the plantation to produce the finished, treated grade S7 planks with full SATAS accreditation at the production facility. There is currently no one in SA that can do this.

Biligom is graded S7 which means it requires 28% less timber vs grade S5 pine to cover the same roof area. Spencer says that roof truss fabricators will also use around 48% fewer gang nail plates. He says the nails go into the wood easily (similar to pine), but it is very hard to get them out again – which makes the trusses even stronger.

The product is currently being produced at the Biligom International sawmill and processing plant on the Diggersrest Farm in the Tzaneen district. Spencer says 40 000 cubic metres of the product has already gone into the informal market without any come-back. The SATAS certification was secured recently, and Biligom is now entering into the formal market.

He says there has been keen interest in the system which will be licensed to other producers. Already another production plant is being set up in Paulpietersburg, with further interest from timber processors around the country. Spencer plans to market the system internationally in countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Australia, India, America, Europe and China.

A key aspect of the process is the slow drying that takes place in-field. The timber is felled de-barked and then left in-field for 4-6 weeks before it is cross-cut and hauled to the mill.  There it is sawn to spec, graded and finger-jointed and finally treated with Tanalith ‘E’ to produce the finished product.

The main species used is E. grandis and G x C, grown at standard 2x3 metre espacement. The trees are pruned twice, starting at one year old. Spencer said coppice material is also very good raw material for the product.

“Everyone said we couldn’t do it,” said Spencer. “But we did our homework and I believe we have come up with a great new innovation.

“This makes it possible for farmers growing Eucalyptus to compete in the construction timber market. It could also be a solution for the massive shortage of pine saw timber that is looming in South Africa, especially in the Western Cape where plantations are being closed down in terms of government’s exit strategy.”

A lot of R and D has gone into the product to get it to the point where it’s ready for the market. Spencer says he has been working on it for about 12 years, starting with field trials.

Biligom was also the focus of an MSc research project by a postgraduate student, Phillipus Crafford, at Stellenbosch University, supervised by Brand Wessels.

The final step in the development of the product was the S7 grading by the South African Technical Auditing Service (SATAS) that was achieved recently.

Apencer’s son Fred heads up the whole operation as CEO and has played a pivotal role in getting this new product to where it currently is.

Biligom International and Diggersrest Farm is a family-owned business that has been producing treated timber poles and sawn lumber products since 1970s.

They have 600ha under forestry and another 2 000ha on lease, and employ 680 people. Spencer said they are currently doing trials with saligna and other Eucalyptus species to see if it would be suitable timber for the Biligom product.

Biligom timber in production at Diggersrest Farm, Limpopo.

*Published in August 2014

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