The Academy Lecture


1966 - 2016: Science and Use of Wood in a Changing World


Gerd Wegener

Technical University of Munich



This Academy Lecture is given in honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the International Academy of Wood Science. It portrays the Academy’s founder, Franz Kollmann, examines the career of the Academy's journal, Wood Science and Technology, explores the changes taking place in the fields of wood and forest resources, reviews some global challenges, and finally addresses a number of topics, trends and innovations of scientific interest and reviews some industrial issues.
A Changing World
The world has changed faster in the past 50 years than ever before in the history of mankind. Innumerable wars and belligerent conflicts, terrorism and man-made and environmental disasters (for example Chernobyl, Fukushima, Seveso, Bhopal) have left their mark on mankind in the same way as sensational events such as the first heart transplant, the first person to walk on the moon, the reunification of Germany and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain.
Moreover, strong forces and megatrends such as dynamic population growth, globalization, digitalization, urbanization and industrialization – alongside the exploding demand for energy and other resources – are bringing about massive geopolitical and economic realignments but also environmental devastation, the destruction of tropical forests and the loss of natural habitats and traditional livelihoods. These phenomena, together with ongoing climate change, have been keenly debated at international conferences since 1972 (The Limits to Growth), for example in Rio de Janeiro (1992), Kyoto (1998) and Paris (2015).
Focus on Forests and Wood
These changes are heightening awareness and concern about striking the right balance between the natural resources available and their conservation as our cultural heritage; they speak in favor of a shift towards renewable sources of energy and materials within an overall context of sustainable resource management. Undoubtedly this will mean that forestry, forests, wood use and the study and technical application of wood will increasingly become the focus of political and public attention. The challenge to our forestry and wood community now is to hone our global image of representing an innovative, efficient and scientifically robust field of expertise.
Franz Kollmann
Franz Kollmann (1906 – 1987) inspired research in the field of wood across the world through his numerous and ambitious activities pursued over a period of decades. It is worth mentioning a few of these here. Franz Kollmann was the author of well-known reference works on basic and applied wood technology; in 1954 he founded the Munich Wood Research Institute; he served as a professor at the universities of Eberswalde, Hamburg and Munich; and he also served as president of the Fraunhofer Society. This year’s anniversary celebration in Paris pays particular tribute to an immense achievement, namely his establishment of our International Academy of Wood Science and subsequently the professional journal Wood Science and Technology.
The Journal
The Academy’s journal, Wood Science and Technology, is now in its 50th volume in a series that encompasses a total of some 2,300 scholarly articles. A much improved citation record, which is taken as an indication of quality, has now pushed it up into second place in the citation index ranking of all 21 wood journals published worldwide. The journal also reflects very clearly the impact of internationalization and the geographical shifts taking place: the manuscripts submitted in 2015 came from authors in 58 countries, with 35% being submitted from Asia, predominantly China (19%). This suggests another interesting development: a kind of democratization process within the scientific community, where networks, collectives and project groups from different countries and disciplines are bringing together teams of authors, has raised the average number of authors per article from 1.4 to 4.1 over the past 50 years. Finally, on-line publishing has vastly speeded up the communication of ideas around the globe.
Forest Resources
Various sources reliably suggest that the global forest area today amounts to some 4 billion hectares. Over the past 50 years about 650 million hectares of forest, almost exclusively in tropical zones, have been lost. Much of this deforested area has been converted to agricultural use for growing crops such as soya and oil palms or for grazing cattle. Another major cause of forest loss has been logging, most of it illegal. Some of this loss has been and continues to be offset by forestation schemes in China, South America, the USA and Europe, though most of these concern fast-growing species cultivated for their energy or product potential. The “Big Five” forest countries - Russia, Brazil, Canada, the USA and China – together account for over one half of the world’s total forest area.
Wood and Wood Products
Annual production of roundwood has now reached 3.7 billion cubic meters, an increase of 1.7 billion cubic meters over the past 50 years. However, population growth has meant that the global per capita wood supply has fallen during the same period from 0.75 to 0.50 cubic meters, a figure which includes the per capita supply of fuelwood, which itself has fallen from 0.35 to 0.25 cubic meters. This drop is particularly keenly noticed in most developing countries.
Regarding the production of high-value wood products, it is interesting to note that the wood and paper industry in the EU produces almost 30% of all wood products produced globally, despite having only 5% of the total forest area.
Another remarkable fact is that whereas the production of sawnwood has increased only slightly over the past 50 years, paper production has quadrupled and wood-based panel and composite production has increased tenfold over the same period. The latter eloquently shows the importance of innovative R&D, driven by consumer demand for better performance on the one hand and by standardization, industrial production engineering and the appeal of international markets on the other.
Research and Development
A key factor in promoting building with wood is the long ongoing, intensive research on glues and their interactions with different wood species which has paved the way for developing the high-performance construction materials in use today, such as LVL, CLT and OSB. These, together with data-based digital planning and industrial pre-fabrication of parts, have made it possible today to use wood for multi-storey buildings, bridges, roof constructions with exciting dimensions and designs, and even for the towers of wind turbines. Real-life examples of all these constructions are now demonstrating the capabilities of wood.
The wood industry and wood use in general suffered for a long time from the negative image conveyed by high formaldehyde emissions from particleboards, dioxin formation from chlorine pulp bleaching, and health hazards from the use of chemical wood preservation agents. Basic and applied “defense” research has now overcome these problems.
Looking ahead, for some time now the industry has been working on a remarkable list of areas for innovation. These include new analytical techniques, chemical wood and biomass components in designs for bio-refining, bioactive extractives, nanocellulose applications, modification technologies, hybrid concepts for fiber/plastics composites, novel glue concepts, friction welding, bamboo-based materials, bio-mineralization and functionalization, wood-based materials for 3D printing and, last but not least, carbon inventories and the wood option for climate protection.
Wood Science for the Future
Wood science has developed from an exotic science to become a rather complex, interdisciplinary field of scholarship. Conventionally influenced by biology, chemistry, physics and technology, today it is likewise inspired by many other disciplines, for example environmental and life sciences, civil engineering, and architecture. Wood science is thus increasingly becoming a broader material science, as has been amply documented by a multitude of publications in recent decades and is also reflected in the papers for the Academy’s conference in Paris. This new situation is undoubtedly not disadvantageous, but it requires us to strike the right balance between holding fast to our “roots” in wood and seizing the opportunity to enhance our standing within the scientific community. The Academy should carefully monitor this aspect of change.
In view of the global role of forests and wood utilization and the benefits associated with them, wood science will become a key area of scholarship for society in a post-fossil world.
In 1912 Kandinsky and Marc published the following: “The whole work, called art, knows no borders or nations, only humanity.” If we replace ‘art’ by ‘wood science,’ the Academy can help to make this vision become a reality.

The Lecturer

Gerd Wegener, born 1945, was appointed Director of the Institute for Wood Research Munich, and to the Chair of Wood Science and Technology at the Faculty of Forestry of the University of Munich, since 2000 of the Technical University of Munich.
Preliminary studies in civil engineering at the Technical University of Munich were followed by studies in Wood Technology at Hamburg University and practical work in civil engineering, carpentry and wood and pulp industry. He received his Doctoral Degree in Forestry in 1975 and the qualification as full professor in 1986, together with the Habilitation Award by the University of Munich.
His research work has been published in some 450 publications, encompassing a wide range of subjects in forestry and wood science, dealing with wood chemistry, properties and utilization of wood and wood-based materials, roundwood supply, and the use of wood for pulp and paper and as chemical raw material and energy resource. Since 1993 his special interest also focused on life-cycle assessments and environmental issues, such as the reduction in greenhouse gases through wood utilization.
He acts as reviewer for a great number of national and international research organizations and served as guest lecturer at many universities all over the world. He was Chief Editor of the journals “Wood Science and Technology” and “European Journal of Wood and Wood Products” for nearly 20 years until 2014.
He received honorary doctor degrees from the Technical University of Zvolen (Slovakia) in 1997 and from the Forest Technical Academy of St.Petersburg (Russia) in 2005, and furthermore numerous awards, including the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon and the Schweighofer Main Prize for his lifework in 2009.

The lecture was presented during the 2016 IAWS Plenary Meeting in Paris/ France

1966 - 2016: Science and Use of Wood in a Changing World