Services for entreprises Quartier Saint-Roch, Québec - Crédit: André Chamorel

Key sectors

Manufacturing industry

Cutting-edge research facilities = ingenious ideas

FPInnovations (Forintek division)
Wood: new markets for a reliable high-tech product

“The forest industry is a high-tech sector too. And it’s the wave of the future!” That’s the rightfully upbeat assessment of Richard Desjardins, research director of FPInnovations’ Forintek division in Quebec City.

FPInnovations (Forintek division)
  • Year founded: 2007
  • Number of employees: 125 in Quebec City
  • Sales revenues: approximately CA$100 million
  • Number of projects: 200-300 annually
  • Regional offices: 19 across Canada
  • Since 1991, Forintek has been granted 74 patents for technology innovations, 49 of which have been subsequently renewed.

Key research areas:
  • Resource assessment
  • Lumber manufacturing
  • Composite products manufacturing
  • Value-added products
  • Building systems
  • Codes and standards
  • Market and economics

In April 2007, Forintek merged with three research centres (FERIC, Paprican and Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre) to form FPInnovations—the world’s pre-eminent non-profit forest research institute.

There is a long history of wood product innovation in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, thanks in part to Forintek’s research endeavours. The forest industry today must attract new clients and explore new sales opportunities, and FPInnovations was created to support those efforts.

With labs in Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver, FPInnovations is a privately owned R&D; organization that provides scientific and technical advice to businesses. For example, FPInnovations undertakes research aimed at maximizing the value of raw materials and optimizing manufacturing processes. “Our research programs are directly geared to industry requirements. Companies can take the lead on various projects with the support of our forestry, engineering and chemistry researchers,” says Mr. Desjardins.

Replacing concrete with wood

Which material is more resistant, wood or concrete? For tall structures, building codes usually require concrete or steel. However, higher-strength wood products have been produced thanks to research carried out at Forintek’s labs.

“Our work is largely focused on developing composite products, such as the beams used in the Chauveau Park soccer stadium currently under construction in Quebec City,” says Mr. Desjardins. This new technology was created by the manufacturer with the direct support of Forintek’s researchers. The composite product is made of black spruce fibre. This species, which grows in Canada’s boreal forests, is recognized for its superior strength and is often used as a building material. In fact, the Chauveau Park soccer stadium is built entirely of Quebec wood.

FPInnovations is also able to document the performance of wood products in compliance with Canadian building codes. “We have to demonstrate that our innovations meet code requirements. Our wood products are strong and resistant enough to be used in the construction of an eight-storey building!” says Mr. Desjardins.

Wood also plays a key role in the green building sector—a fact that FPInnovations is seeking to promote. According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the transportation and concrete construction sectors are major greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters. Wood is an ideal solution since the related processing emits only a fraction of the GHG produced by steel, concrete or aluminum manufacturing. “Wood can also be used for carbon capture. A growing tree absorbs carbon and when it dies, the carbon is released. If wood is used during construction, the carbon can be stored in the building,” notes Mr. Desjardins.

New markets

In addition to the Canadian market, FPInnovations promotes the use of wood around the world. “The goal of FPInnovations and the forest industry is to increase wood construction’s international market share, primarily in Asia and Europe. In North America, residential construction is usually wood-based, while concrete or brick are favoured in other regions. But worldwide demand can be boosted by emphasizing wood’s numerous benefits, including its resilience, energy efficiency, environmental qualities and earthquake-resistance.”

To ensure that wood’s benefits are fully recognized, FPInnovations’ research teams regularly take part in the activities of international committees responsible for building codes and standards with a view to creating standards for wood products and related systems. Researchers are currently working to have wood included in China’s national building code, and the Chinese government has already begun to use wood on school construction projects. A huge market is opening its doors to the forest industry!

Lisa-Marie Noël

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