Accoya off the blocks

23 June 2007 by Sally Spencer

Commercial production of the modified wood Accoya has officially started

It's taken 80 years to reach this point but, at last, the eagerly-anticipated commercial production of Accoya is now a reality following the official opening of the Titan Wood manufacturing facility at Arnhem in the Netherlands at the end of last month.

The event attracted around 200 people from across Europe and included architects, specifiers, sawmillers, joinery manufacturers, coatings specialists, wood scientists, chemical engineers and local dignitaries. And as Edward Pratt, chief executive of Titan Wood's parent company Accsys Technologies, pointed out, many of those present at the opening had been instrumental in elevating the product from prototype to production status.

For example, BSW Timber, which has the exclusive agreement to distribute Accoya in the UK and Ireland, has collaborated on the development of the product since Titan Wood was formed in 2003.

Global research

Accoya is the end result of eight decades of global R&D and field-testing in acetylated wood modification – a patented process that protects wood from rot by making it inedible to most micro-organisms and insects.

In essence, the new 30,000m2 production facility at Arnhem modifies sustainable plantation-grown radiata pine from New Zealand and Chile to have the performance characteristics of a hardwood. It is dimensionally stable, extremely durable and boasts excellent environmental credentials in terms of the raw material source, its non-toxicity and its benign production process – factory emissions are well below legal limits. And all this is achieved while maintaining the aesthetic qualities of the timber.

Guests at the official opening were treated to a glimpse of some of Accoya's potential – and existing – applications, which range from harmonica reeds to road bridges. The latter, two heavy traffic road bridges in Sneek, in Friesland province, is perhaps the product's most famous application to date. It's certainly the most impressive, as the project will use 1,200m3 of Accoya and each bridge will measure 20m high by 40m long.

The bridges are scheduled for completion in 2009 and, as architect Hans Achterbosch said, once the decision to use timber was made, Accoya was “the natural choice because of its outstanding performance attributes”.

“After rigorous testing we found that its dimensional stability and incredible durability put it head and shoulders above other species and showed that it is suitable for laminating in large sections measuring 1080x1400mm,” said Mr Achterbosch.

“Not only are these bridges aesthetically pleasing but, in practical terms, they show that wood can now offer a very real alternative to other materials, such as steel, in demanding applications. That is very exciting news for architects and civil engineers as it is the first time that fast-growing, sustainably farmed wood can be used in such demanding applications. These bridges are designed to last at least 80 years.”

As Accoya has a 50-year life guarantee and a 12-year guarantee for an opaque, fully factory-applied coating system for first brush applied maintenance, back in the UK and Ireland, cladding and joinery manufacturers can look forward to similarly impressive longevity for their products.

BSW Timber is already bringing in quantities of Accoya from the plant and anticipates that joinery sections – up to 100mm – will be available for its customers in July.

“In year one BSW will bring in enough Accoya for tens of thousands of windows, for example,” said group marketing manager Bryan Crennell, adding that, as the market materialises, the company plans to establish a BSW Accoya production plant.

Signed up

BSW has already signed up two merchants and several joinery manufacturers to sell and use Accoya and will support them in their marketing activities for the product. Westgate Joinery, Wright Joinery, Anthony A Davies Ltd, Carey & Fox Ltd, Coed Derwen Joinery Ltd and Dempsey Dyer Ltd will use finger-jointed sections for making joinery products. Meanwhile, Arnold Laver Timber World and Vincent Timber Ltd will stock Accoya cladding products.

In addition, BSW has developed detailed arrangements for coatings manufacturer Akzo Nobel Sikkens and Teknos to provide a high quality finish for Accoya.

Speaking at the factory opening, John Alexander, BSW Timber's head of business development, presented several case studies where Accoya had already been successfully used in exterior applications such as roofs, windows, balustrades and doors.

And, in Glenrothes, Fife, architect Gordon Aitken chose Accoya cladding for his home. As part of the plans, Mr Aitken developed a 145x19mm thick “rainscreen” cladding board with tapered, horizontal, open joints for the house.

“As an architect I knew from the outset that I wanted a cladding material with minimal maintenance,” he said. “However, the aesthetics were also paramount to a successful design.

“I was impressed with the benefits of Accoya, including its outstanding durability and the significant reduction in timber shrinkage and expansion,” he added.

It adds up to an exciting future for Accoya, particularly with the prospect of acetylated panel products on Titan Wood's radar. “It's taken a while to get to this point, but it's been a good and fun journey,” said Edward Pratt. “Accoya isn't an incremental step, it's a revolution,” he added. And he exhorted business partners and customers to “think big – we can really make something special of this”.