In recent years, the growing demand of wood and wood-based products has stimulated an increasing interest in poplar cultivation due, among other reasons, to its fast-growing cycle and its versatility for industrial uses. Poplar trees are among the fastest growing trees in Europe as they can be harvested after 10 to 20 years, plus during their growth cycle poplars capture carbon, thus helping in the task of tackling climate change. In addition, poplar wood from sustainably managed plantations and forests is a suitable substitute of less sustainable materials such as single-use plastic.
Among the most interesting properties of poplar wood are its lightness, light colour, great homogeneity and ease of processing (debarking, cutting, gluing and finishing, etc.). Current studies also show that once subjected to heat treatment (heat modifies the characteristics of the wood), without additives or chemical treatments, poplar wood can compete with autoclave-treated wood products for outdoor applications in construction or furniture.
Nowadays poplar is the main species used in the production of plywood in several European countries like Spain, France, Italy and Hungary. Poplar plywood has applications in decoration and furniture, and a soaring demand in high-end industries like campervans, trains or yachts and boats where it is used for interiors and furnishing.
Poplar wood is also used for matches, cheese boxes, medical tools, chopsticks, among others, and the fact that it is colourless, odourless and tasteless makes it an ideal material for the manufacturing of packaging for the agri-food industry. Additionally, new research by the Professorship of Wood Technology and Fiber Materials Technology (HFT) and the Institute of Plant and Wood Chemistry (IPWC) of TU Dresden, supported by Dendromass4Europe has focused on identification of the potential fungicidal substances in the bark of various poplar hybrids and the possibility to develop new materials for agri-food products packaging.
According to Dr Gaetano Castro and Giuseppe Fragnelli, from the Institute of Experimentation of the Populiculture of Casale Monferrato of Italy, the applications for poplar are constantly evolving, both due to market dynamics and the development of new industrial technologies.
Although until now, poplar wood from sustainable plantations and forests applications are mainly restricted to non-structural purposes, in an article on the applications of poplar in the construction industry Dr Castro says that “it also has good homogeneity and high structural efficiency, which could be the key to success for its expansion into structural applications”.
In Dr Castro’s opinion, “poplar wood could be used advantageously in the central portion of structural elements, the external parts of which are made with more resistant materials. In this case, the correct design, product safety and the availability of precise technical information are the main factors that can guarantee the success and increasing use of this wood in the construction sector”.
Thus, poplar wood is a valuable, natural, renewable, sustainable, reusable, recyclable and inexhaustible resource that takes pressure off natural forests and meets the market needs.