Professor of Wood Products Technology Henrik Heräjärvi moved to the University of Eastern Finland after working for the Natural Resources Institute Finland, formerly known as the Finnish Forest Research Institute, for a quarter of a century. He knows the university well, thanks to having studied at the University of Joensuu, and having held fixed-term professorships in wood technology and wood materials science.
The field of wood products technology encompasses the basic wood products industries, such as sawmills and plywood mills, the wood products refining industries, and machinery and equipment manufacturing. Wood construction is currently attracting international interest due to, e.g., its low climate load.
“The construction sector is the most important individual client of the forest bioeconomy, with about 70% of wood products going into the construction sector value chains. Wood products are manufactured from sawlogs, which hold the main financial incentive within forestry. The major significance of wood construction also influenced the definition of my role,” Heräjärvi says.
Wood construction is not just about load-bearing structures and external cladding. Wood products used in interior design, and their effects on well-being, are of great interest across the world. At the University of Eastern Finland, research into the field is expected to expand.
“I see findings emerging from this field as a huge marketing advantage for wood. For instance, office work can be significantly more productive in facilities that are furnished with materials that enhance psychophysical well-being. In Finland, research into the topic remains scarce, but in Japan, for example, things are further along.”
“This is a hugely interesting theme. Wood and other natural materials, as well as biophilic surfaces mimicking them, may have significant health effects through, for example, stress reduction,” Heräjärvi says.
Wood-based insulation solutions face many expectations
The construction sector is already witnessing a paradigm shift from new construction to maintenance and renovation.
“Renovation business will increase further, either through guidance or through incentives,” he says.
The conditions in which buildings are used are changing with the climate, which sets new requirements for wooden parts regarding their resilience to moulds, decay fungi and weather. The fact that toxins-containing preservatives cannot be added to wood and paints like in the old days creates an additional challenge.
“Here in Finland, we’ve been lucky to have a cold period of six months, keeping decay and mould fungi at bay. The situation is changing, as the inactive period of these organisms may already have been halved. In other words, the risk period is longer and, to avoid future problems, both new construction and renovation solutions need to react,” says Heräjärvi.
Efficiency in the use of all materials, including wood, should be increased, and waste avoided. Current building stocks and future facility needs should be systematically reconciled at municipal level, for example, and options for renovating old buildings should always be explored first, before building new ones.