European poplar, a local, sustainable, efficient choice

ProPopulus Team

The ban on Russian and Belarusian birch and birch plywood, as well as on all other timber and forestry by-products from these countries, is an opportunity for European producers, manufacturers, traders, and consumers to turn to other wood species widely produced within the EU.

Among those, European poplar and poplar plywood from sustainably managed forests and plantations (SMF&P) arise as worthy alternatives to Russian and Belarusian birch and birch plywood.

European poplar, a local resource

Currently, in the EU there are approximately 450.000 hectares of production-oriented poplar forests and plantations, mainly concentrated in the Mediterranean countries, that are also the main producers of poplar plywood.

France is the first country in poplar production in Europe followed by Spain and Italy. The French manufacture of plywood from poplar has increased by 40% since 2015, according to the organisation Peupliers de France.

In Spain, according to the National Poplar Commission, there are around 81,000 hectares of production-oriented poplar groves.

Sustainably managed

European poplars for industrial use come from sustainably managed forests and plantations (SMF&P). These are not genetically modified trees, but cultivated trees bred, planted, and grown in the most efficient way to produce the best possible plywood panels. Every poplar that is felled is replanted.

Poplar plantations have a positive impact on local economies. They benefit rural development and employment by hiring local workforce and therefore fixing the population.

Transformation facilities, that are also a source of employment for local skilled labour, are usually located in the proximities of plantations and forests, reducing the carbon footprint of transportation.

In France alone, the poplar industry generates 12,000 direct local jobs and as many indirect ones. In Spain, it is estimated that every two hectares harvested translate into one direct job in the industry.

Long-lasting efficiency

The main advantage of poplar over other species is its particularly rapid growth cycle, which allows it to produce large volumes of wood in a short time.

Like all trees, it has the ability to capture CO2 from the air, thus helping to combat climate change. Thus, one hectare of growing poplar allows 11 tonnes of CO2 to be stored per year (stored in the leaves, wood, roots and soil).

Poplar groves function as green filters, both for the soil and the water tables in which they like to grow. Poplars can capture up to 70-90% of the nitrates present and have an absorption capacity 16 times greater than that of a grassland. They can also absorb phosphates from the soil. Poplars are therefore of great interest for the development of agroforestry.

Everything in the poplar is used! About 60% of the tree is used as a material (timber) by the wood processing industries and the remaining 40% (pulpwood) is used to produce process panels (particleboard, MDF, OSB), paper pulp or for energy purposes. Poplar production and processing do not generate any waste: the co-products or by-products of the processing industries are fully recovered.

A good choice

Among the best-known properties of poplar wood are its lightness, light colour, high uniformity, and ease of processing, etc., characteristics that poplar plywood naturally embodies.

  • Lightness :
    Lighter (450 kg/m3) than birch plywood (700 kg/m3), for comparable mechanical performance, poplar plywood provides solutions in terms of ease of processing, and answers in the construction of additional spaces (by extending the surface or raising the height of a building).
  • Uniformity and homogeneity:
    Poplar plywood has little to envy of birch plywood, with which it shares the same colour, uniformity and fine grain, which (at lower density) make it a material particularly well suited to cutting (especially laser cutting) while sparing the tools and thus to finishing.
  • Added value:
    The development of new technologies has made it possible to improve the performance of poplar plywood, particularly in terms of biological durability and fire resistance, which gives it a truly excellent performance/weight ratio and has already convinced several industries, known as the most demanding, in the leisure car, railway and marine construction sectors.

Thus, as a European resource of local origin, poplar wood and poplar plywood are alternative materials of choice, suitable for all types of projects. This will satisfy the economic actors obliged to comply with the regulatory restrictions on imports of Russian or Belarusian wood and wood-based products.

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