After establishing Virginia Tech university-compliant COVID 19 mitigation protocols, the College of Natural Resources and Environment has permitted Drs. Zhangjing Chen and Marshall White, of the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, to proceed with their field research. These two faculty members have been studying the efficacy of heat treatments using steam and vacuum processes to efficiently sanitize logs and other wood products for international trade. For more than 10 years, these researchers have been studying how to better control the global migration of forest pathogens and insects.

Through this project, Drs. Chen and White have been focused on two of wood products’ characteristics that could potentially be impacted by these treatments. First, they’ve been studying the ability of this process to control forest pests, and second, they’ve looked at the impact of this treatment on product quality. The current project’s focus is to determine the impact of heat treatments on the quality of pine and oak sawlogs from forest thinnings which were conducted as part of forest fire suppression procedures. After heat treatment, the value of the lumber sawn from treated and non-treated (control) logs will be compared. Next, the research team will evaluate the effectiveness of this heat treatment process in eradicating oak wilt pathogens in white oak logs and nematodes in pine logs.

Between these projects, Dr. Chen and Dr. White are helping the USDA APHIS PPQ develop species-targeted, log treatment protocols to be included in the USDA Treatment Manual. These new protocols will lead to the commercialization of heat treatments which can replace the current chemical fumigation of logs using methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is dangerous to use and is a class 1 ozone depleting chemical. This chemical process is to be replaced, under international agreement, as soon as an acceptable alternative is identified.

This project is funded by a USDA Forest Service Wood Innovations Grant with the cooperation and support of the Turman Group located in Hillsville, Virginia.