Sunday, September 9, 2012

WV Timber - The Value-added Natural Resource

The Cabell County Forestry and Rail project to learn about the timber and railroad industry in West Virginia was extended by one more day. This was because there was not enough time on our primary trip to tour all the important facilities in both industries. This was achieved on September 5 and 6, 2012 when teachers visited Weyerhauser OSB Sutton Plant and Appalachian Timer Services in Sutton, WV.

Both of these plants demonstrate the importance of extracting a natural resource and producing a product that makes the resource more valuable. These jobs add income to our citizens and tax revenue to our state economy. This is in stark contrast to West Virginia's other major natural resource, coal.The coal industry offers few value-added jobs and employment in mining continues to go down as machines perform more mining functions.

The photographs above show how the process of producing oriented strand board at Weyerhauser's Sutton plant is highly automated. From the crane that unloads logs to the conveyor belts that move the newly cut strands, there is very little human interaction.

Most human interaction involves solving problems should any machine in the manufacturing process malfunction. The photo above right shows the control room where each step in the OSB production process is carefully monitored by computers and humans. The other area where humans are heavily involved is in the maintenance of the various production machines. The Weyerhauser Sutton Plant is a highly-automated, capital intensive operation.

The above photo shows workers at Appalachian Timber Services involved in the production of railroad ties. This company produces treated wood products for the mining industry, railroad industry, and  railroad bridge components. This is necessarily a labor intensive process that is only partially automated. 

The above photo shows workers producing components for building railroad bridges. Like Weyerhauser, ATS burns scrap and waste wood for energy to drive the machinery of production. Both companies also use the less valuable parts of  harvested trees as raw material in their production. This maximizes the value of West Virginia timber by using parts of the trees that were once abandoned. This has been a recurring theme on this trip as time and again the timber industry has demonstrated maximum efficiency, while minimizing the environmental impact of their industry. 

This should be emulated by the coal industry and maximize the use of a valuable natural resource by creating value-added products. Burning coal is the poorest use of a valuable source of complex hydrocarbon compounds that could be used in value-added manufacturing processes with a smaller environmental impact.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The American Persimmon Tree

The American Persimmon tree is native to the eastern United States and produces a yellow-orange tangy fruit, often used in puddings in the midwest. Its taste is said to be a a cross between plums and dates.

The Persimmon Tree is a member of the ebony family of wood and is often used as a substitute for ebony. This is used in making musical instruments. This tree likes a moist to dry soil with a neutral pH and grows in open sunlight or in slight shade. It is a deciduous tree that grows to be only about 25 to 30 feet in height.

Apple Tree

The Apple Tree is one the most widely cultivated fruit trees in the world. This tree is a small deciduous tree that has been cultivated for thousands of years.

The Apple Tree is a member of the rose family and is propagated by grafting. The genome of the Apple Tree was decoded in 2010, and it was found to have over 55,000 genes, the highest of any plant so far. The human genome contains only 30,000 genes.

Apples are used in a great variety of desserts and drinks as well as eaten raw. There are over 7,500 cultivars of the apple. A cultivar is an apple that has specific characteristics that are propagated through grafting to maintain them.

The Apple Tree is unique among all the trees listed in that it plays a role in history unlike any other. The history of the apple runs from Alexander the Great, to Greek mythology, to the Garden of Eden.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

White Oak

The White Oak is a native North American tree found from Minnesota to Quebec, south to Florida and Texas. It is called white oak though its bark is closer to light gray.

This tree grows to around 90 feet and has been known to live as long as 450 years. The White Oak can sometimes hold its dead leaves through the winter until spring. It likes a moist to dry, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic to alkaline. It is used as a shade tree, in suburban areas because it is intolerant of conditions in urban areas.

White Oak wood is used in the liquor and wine industry as well as in ship-building because of its leak proof nature. It is also used in farm implements and in ornamental woodwork in home interiors. The acorns from White Oaks are an important food source for deer, squirrels, pheasants, and turkeys.

American Basswood or American Linden

The American Basswood tree is native to North America and can be found from Manitoba to New Brunswick, and as far south as Florida and Texas. It is also called the American Linden.

The American Basswood is a deciduous tree that prefers moist to dry soil with a high pH, and grows to 130 feet in height. It can live to be over 200 years old. As the photo shows, it is a simple leaf system characterized by the serrated leaf edges.

It is a very soft wood, so it is used in making crates, for food containers, and sometimes for making solid electric guitars.. Its flowers are attractive to honey bees and so they produce a very high quality honey from the nectar. It is also cultivated as a shade tree because of its leaves and long life.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Black Walnut

The Black Walnut tree is native to the eastern United States but has since spread to include the midwestern states as well and grows mostly in riparian zones.

The Black Walnut is a deciduous tree that grows in both woodlands and fields in moderately moist soil. It can grow to 150 feet in height and has a compound leaf system as shown above.

This tree is grown for several important uses such as:
  • Wood for furniture, flooring, and rifle stocks.
  • Nuts as food that is high in poly unsaturated fats and protein.
  • Hard shells as abrasives in oil well drilling and cosmetics.
  • Hull for stains and dyes.

Sweetgum Tree

The American Sweetgum tree is a deciduous tree that is native to the warmer areas of the eastern United States. It is characterized by its five point star-shaped leaf and spiked seeds.

The Sweetgum is found from New Jersey to northern Florida, west to Texas and north to Illinois and Indiana. It is also found in California and prefers bottomlands and coastal clkimate zones.

This tree lives for more than one hundred years and grows to more than130 feet tall. This hardwood tree is used for lumber to make boxes, crates, and railroad ties. It is alos used for firewood, pulpwood, and plywood. 

The resin of the Sweetgum has been used as medicine by Native Americans and was mixed with tobacco and smoked by Mexican emperors. It now has no medicinal use, though it is still used as an ingredient in perfumes.