Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have discovered a way to kill destructive pests, such as the emerald ash borer, in wood for pallets and other shipping components.

John Janowiak, professor of wood products engineering, and Kelli Hoover, professor of entomology, developed a patent-pending, wood-treatment chamber that heats wood in a unique configuration using radio frequency waves, making the process energy-efficient. The radio frequency treatment works like a microwave oven – both are types of dielectric heating – but radio frequency can penetrate several meters into wood while microwaves cannot.

“We believe this technological innovation has significant ramifications to help control new pest introductions from destroying our extremely valuable forests and urban tree ecosystems, which would eliminate further multi-billion-dollar economic losses from destructive pests like emerald ash borer,” Janowiak said.

Penn State says the treatment is poised to replace the process of fumigating wood with methyl bromide – a chemical that is being phased out – and help the wood products industry to retain export markets likely to reject chemical-treated wood, which has sparked increased demand for plastic shipping pallets.

“If they can’t use wooden pallets anymore, that’s a really big hit to the wood industry,” Janowiak explained. “What do we do with 40 percent of our logs if we can’t put them into wooden shipping pallets?” The technology has received a $75,000 Research Applications for Innovation (RAIN) grant.

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