Ongoing projects

-> Enhancewood (2022-2026)

Contact: Marcy Durimel, Joris Van Acker, Andre Skirtach

Wood is regarded as an eminent material for future green building. It allows to underpin several of the United Nations sustainable development goals and is regarded critical for the Green Deal objectives of the EU. Nevertheless, to enhance the potential it needs to be better understood in respect of fit-for-purpose based solutions to control both resistance against fire and fungal decay. In this project, we will apply new nano-chemicals and develop custom-made multimodal microscopy approaches to come to a breakthrough in wood protection technology. Both new insights in the use of nanochemicals and the now available research techniques on cell wall level create the momentum to enable this breakthrough in providing wood products with fully controlled properties. This new technology should not only be valid for softwoods and hardwoods, both easy treatable and refractory, but also should perform adequately over time even in an environment prone to leaching. Increased service life both related to fungal decay and fire safety will be obtained by nanotechnological treatments that allow to reinvent some critical and innovative building products like CLT (cross laminated timber).

-> CONTexT (2023-2025)

Contact: Sofie DierickxSiska Genbrugge, Hans Beeckman, Jan Van den Bulcke

The CONteXT research project aims to add to the - often scarce - knowledge about the collection of Congolese wooden heritage objects at the Royal Museum for Central Africa by letting the objects themselves speak through the analysis of their material history. By processing high-resolution X-ray microtomography (μCT) imagery of one hundred Congolese objects, information about the objects' original context and history can be non-invasively derived. The knowledge extracted from the scans will help heritage experts at the museum gain a better understanding of the cultures they study: how were the objects in the collection constructed, what materials were incorporated and how were the objects used. The study will also help museum curators understand the ageing processes of materials, the sensitivity of materials to changes in different environments and any ancient conservation treatments used to preserve objects; ultimately to improve the care and preservation of the objects in the collection.

Through the study of material clues, the CONteXT project hopes to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the objects' materials, which is inextricably linked to the understanding of the object's cultural meaning and value: the object's context. To reconstruct this comprehensive context, the project will engage members of the objects' source communities in a knowledge exchange network. In collaboration with heritage researchers, creators or users from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the Belgian diaspora, the project aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the material and immaterial context of the objects. The network will also enable open discussion of the often overlooked ethical questions that arise when studying African heritage objects. Through the partnership with the objects' source communities, CONteXT will gather perspectives on sampling, visualising and uncovering sensitive or secret information of African heritage objects.

-> Building carbon stocks in regrowing forests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through planting and natural regeneration (2021-2025)

Contact: Brice Djiofack, Wannes HubauHans Beeckman

Intact tropical forests act as large carbon sinks, hence mitigating climate change. However, alarming recent studies showed that the pan-tropical intact forest carbon sink has saturated and will start declining soon. Hence, we cannot count on remaining intact tropical forests alone to halt increasing atmospheric carbon concentrations and avoid a runaway greenhouse effect scenario.
Therefore, (inter)national policy makers increasingly invest in forest restoration. This is most effective in (sub)tropical forest nations where trees grow quickly. Up to now, more than 40 countries have pledged to restore a total of more than 300 million ha of (sub)tropical forests. Recent modelling analysis predicted that this additional sink would remove 10% of residual carbon emissions, which would significantly contribute to keep global warming under 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, as targeted by the Paris Agreement. However, estimation of this additional reforestation sink relies on very few actual field data.
Therefore, this PhD aims at refining this estimate by reassessing old and generating new ground data from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The focus will be on the Yangambi and Luki Man-and-the-Biosphere (MAB) Reserves, which have acted as ‘living laboratories’ for global change studies since the colonial epoch.

-> SmartWoodID: Smart classification of Congolese timbers (BRAIN-BELSPO project 2021-2024)

Contact: Ruben De Blaere, Jan Van den Bulcke, Tom De Mil, Wannes HubauHans Beeckman

The RMCA XylariumA substantial part of the timber traded each year is still illegal. Logging illegally is the most profitable biodiversity crime. UN Environment estimates that illegal logging and the associated timber trade counts up from 50 to 152 billion USD per year. Illegal logging involves a high risk of irreversible damage to forests since it often involves overexploitation of highly sought after, sometimes protected, species. Timber regulations are already active (CITES, FLEGT, EUTR), but implementation and enforcement are a challenge. Currently, Belgium has the negative connotation of being the ‘hub of illegal timber trade’. 27.5% of the total imports of primary tropical timber products into the 28 countries of the European Union are imported via Belgium (mainly via the port of Antwerp). Wood identification is crucial in the enforcement process when it comes to verify whether the shipment corresponds with the products mentioned on the accompanying documents. For this reason, there is a growing demand for timber identification tools that can be applied by law enforcement officers.

SmartwoodID aims at improving both identification success and speed by non-experts. The project aims at automating part of the wood identification process by applying artificial intelligence techniques for the analysis of wood anatomical images of timber species of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The tree flora of Central Africa comprises 3013 species, 27 of these belong to the class 1 commercial timber species of the DRC and are actually intensively logged and traded, 20 to class 2 (have potentially a big commercial value), 44 to class 3 (are considered to be promoted) and 879 to class 4 (commercial value is not yet known). The project uses xylarium samples of all the species of the four classes and takes advantage of the power of modern deep learning approaches. It also relies on expert wood anatomical descriptions which will serve as annotated training data to develop the software.

More info on

-> ACTREAL: ACcurate Temperature REconstructions and climate change mapping in tree rings of Ancient bristlecone pines, the Longest-living trees in the world (FWO project 2021-2025)

Contact: Jan Van den Bulcke, Tom De Mil, Luc Van Hoorebeke, Valerie Trouet, Charlotte Pearson, Matthew Salzer

MXD of bristlecone pineClimate change will have a destabilizing impact on society in the coming decades and therefore reliable climate change predictions are of utmost importance. Reconstructions of X-ray CT cross-section Bristlecone climate, that extend instrumental records to pre-industrial times, are key for the development of reliable climate models. Climate reconstructions using ancient tree rings as a climate proxy can address this issue. We will create a temperature reconstruction extending more than 5000 years back in time from the oldest temperature-sensitive trees in the world (bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva). We will use high-resolution X-ray CT scanning (XμCT) to retrieve the maximum latewood density (MXD), an excellent proxy for summer temperature, from these ancient tree rings. We will use this record to explore past climatic changes and their potential forcing mechanisms. In particular, we will investigate decadal to centennial climate change periods (Medieval Climate Anomaly, Little Ice Age), as well as the impact of abrupt climate change events due to volcanic forcing over a long time period. A state-of-the-art XμCT workflow will produce a new, multi-millennial reconstruction to inform future climate projections, provide context for current climate change, and to better understand climatic forcing of both gradual and abrupt climate changes.

More info on

-> CongoFORCE: Forest dynamics in the Congo Basin driven by climate change: evidence from fossil charcoal, carbon fluxes and wood formation (BELSPO FED-tWIN: 2020-2030)

Contact: Wannes HubauJoris Van Acker, Jan Van den BulckeHans Beeckman

Tropical forests provide a variety of ecosystem services on the local and global scale. However, intact rainforests have been in peril over the last decades due to severe dieback of trees, probably due to changing environmental conditions. Most insights in the responses of vegetation to climate depend on short-term records (annual or decadal-scale), yet short-term sensitivities do not necessarily translate into long-term responses (centennial or millennial-scale). As such, a long-term perspective of linkages between climate and vegetation dynamics is imperative to accurately predict the 21st century fate of Earth’s rainforests. Therefore the general ambition of this project is to improve our understanding of long-term tropical forest sensitivity and resilience to climate change, by comparing multi-timescale records of the best possible natural archives of forest dynamics: wood and fossil charcoal. This profile will focus on the Congo Basin, which represents the World’s second largest contiguous area of rainforest and plays a major role in global biogeochemical and climate cycles, while it has been largely underrepresented in long-term studies due to a lack of ground-based data.

-> XyloDynaCT (FWO project: 2020-2023)

Contact: Victor Mihaila, Matteo Campioli, Jan Van den Bulcke

CT-scan of a microcore of beechIntra-seasonal wood formation is still understudied because the measuring method (analysis of cellular anatomical traits) is labour-intensive and requires important manual skills. The last phase of wood formation (lignification) has been particularly neglected, resulting in a lack of understanding of tree autumn dynamics. UAntwerp-PLECO and UGent-Woodlab will join forces (in collaboration with dr. Fonti, WSL, as key advisor) to address two objectives: (1) develop a new method to study wood formation based on high resolution X-ray Computed Tomography (XμCT) and (2) use the new method to test, at continental scale, the hypothesis that leaf senescence is triggered when wood formation ceases in autumn or, in case of factors limiting growth in summer, when a fixed day of the
year is reached (photoperiodic threshold). The first objective will be met by (i) automating the XμCT process, (ii) identifying the degree of lignification, (iii) assessing intra-seasonal wood traits such as cell size and wall thickness etc., and (iv) implementing a time-lapse scanning on small living trees. The second objective will be achieved by analyzing data of leaf senescence and wood formation of the 10 most common deciduous species in Europe along several transects of varying environmental conditions (e.g. photoperiod, temperature, drought). Overall, the project will start a new direction for the study of wood formation and will elucidate autumn dynamics of deciduous temperate trees.

-> The impact of timber trade in Southern Africa on the sustainability of endangered rosewood species (FORETS: 2019-2022)

Contact: Mélissa Rousseau, Hans Beeckman, Jan Van den Bulcke

Rosewood is a commercial term encompassing hardwood species targeted in particular to produce Chinese traditional Hongmu furnitures, a market that was worth at least USD 15 billion in 2012.  Since 2009, China’s rosewood imports trend has grown exponentially and Africa has become a significant supplier with China registering a 700 percent increase in the import of African rosewood. Many rosewood (some protected by conventions or local laws) and look-alike species are difficult to identify. There is therefore an urgent need for robust identification methods of targeted species. Moreover, wood traceability, verification and control systems must be improved. The overall objective of this study is to assess rosewood species trade legality and sustainable production in Southern Africa by linking traded volumes to standing stocks.

-> Sustainable timber production and legal trade in Pericopsis elata (AFRORMOSIA) (BOF-DOS: 2019-2023)

Contact: Chadrack Kafuti, Nils BourlandJan Van den BulckeJoris Van Acker

Taking samples high above ground level in the DRCongo

Pericopsis elata is one of the most valuable timber species from the African tropical forest. The species provides a high quality wood having a high natural durability, mechanical strength, and dimensional stability, all this combined with its widely appreciated decorative values. Due to intense logging activities, the species’ population has significantly decreased throughout its shifting distribution range. The species is included on the CITES Appendix II. This classification aims to ensure that the international trade of the species does not threaten its survival, suggesting that harvest operations must ensure the long term persistence of the species. However, scientific information necessary for setting up management options aiming at a sustainable yield are lacking. In this project, a multi-scale approach will be used to unravel and describe the natural productivity of the species. The species distribution, population structure, trees functioning and growth performance will be assessed in the light of climate and environmental variability to provide dynamics and site-tailored management options for a sustainable wood production.

More info can be found on the RMCA website.

-> Moisture dynamics and fungal susceptibility of poplar-CLT for green building (CSC: 2019-2023)

Contact: Xiuping Jiang, Joris Van Acker

CLT for high-rise buildings

The interest for building taller all-timber structures using engineered timber materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) has increased substantially, especially in the framework of sustainable use of resources and the positive carbon footprint of wood materials. The specific structure of CLT panels improves the dimensional stability, bending strength and other mechanical properties, thus enabling its use as load-bearing elements in various constructions.

Poplar is of interest as fast growing tree species providing lightweight material and considered a potential species to be used in CLT as a substitute of spruce.

However, due to its low natural durability, we need to acquire sufficient knowledge on its behavior when incorporated in CLT. Within this project, we will therefore focus on moisture dynamics, which are in direct relation to the fungal susceptibility and thus decay resistance and service life of the product. The overall objective is to integrate data on the potential of poplar CLT and provide guidance on a fit-for-purpose approach for application in green building applications.

-> XINCAST: An X-ray view on the intra-seasonal dynamics of carbon storage in trees (BOF: 2018-2022)

Contact: Jan Van den Bulcke

3D rendering of the anatomical features of mapleForests are key in the terrestrial carbon cycle. Studying the seasonal drivers of carbon storage in wood (Wagner et al. 2016) is however labour intensive and mainly descriptive. In this project, we aim at developing an innovative and quantitative method for mapping of intra-seasonal carbon storage using X-ray computed tomography and X-ray fluorescence scans of micro-cores. We will develop suitable protocols for sample preparation, sample staining as well as software development for automated X-ray CT scanning and analysis in function of wood formation, more specifically cell enlargement and cell wall thickening, working on wood species of both temperate as well as tropical regions. This innovative work will be benchmarked against the conventional techniques.

Finished projects

-> ToCoWo: Tomography of COngolese Wooden Objects (BELSPO-BRAIN: 2020-2023)

Contact: Sofie Dierickx, Siska Genbrugge, Hans Beeckman, Jan Van den Bulcke

Ovimbundu statue (see website of the AfricaMuseum)Micron and submicron X-ray computed tomography has proven to be a successful non-destructive tool in the anatomical wood identification in the field of wood biology (Kobayashi et al., 2019; Fioravanti et al., 2017; Whitau et al., 2016). Compared to other analytical tools, the X-rays penetrate the object and the resulting CT image shows not only the surface, but also the interior of the wooden object. As a consequence, the presence of materials such as paint or oil on the surface of the wooden artefact will have no impact on the image obtained with CT scanning. The aim of the research project is to test μCT and sub-μCT as alternative techniques to perform detailed anatomical research of the wood species found in the ethnographic collections of the RMCA in support of the international travel of the ethnographic collections. 

More info on

-> MoCCha-CT: Model-coupled 4D-uCT for advanced material characterisation (FWO-SBO: 2018-2022)

Contact: Pierre Kibleur, Jan Van den Bulcke, Joris Van Acker

X-ray CT cross-section through MDFThe project Model-Coupled 4D-µCT for Advanced Material Characterization (abbreviated MoCCha-CT) is a large-scale research project with economic finality. It is funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders in the Strategic Basic Research Programme (FWO-SBO). During the project we will develop several tools for X-ray imaging of dynamic processes in materials. Through a bi-directional coupling of this improved imaging data to simulation models, an enhanced scientific understanding of dynamic processes and structure inside samples will be accomplished. As such, the project's achievements will allow materials scientists to develop better and more sustainable materials. The UGent-Woodlab group will focus on renewable re-engineered materials, mainly made from wood.

> More info on the MoCCha-CT website.

-> COBECORE: Congo basin eco-climatological data recovery and valorisation (BELSPO-BRAIN: 2017-2021)

Contact: Jan Van den Bulcke

The Belgian Science Policy Office funded “Congo basin eco-climatological data recovery and valorisation (COBECORE, contract BR/175/A3/COBECORE)” project brings together an interdisciplinary network of partners with the objective to establish baseline measurements necessary in long-term (retrospective) ecological and climatological research by valorising unexplored historical data.

In this four year project COBECORE will develop a multi-faceted database, by making the static analog archives of the Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique du Congo belge (INEAC) digitally accessible in addition to extracting eco-physiological relevant plant traits from historical herbarium specimens.

> More info can be found on the COBECORE website.


-> Valorisation of eco-climatological data (1961-2020) for improving research on climate change and the management of Congo basin rainforests (Global Minds: 2020-2021)

Contact: Emmanuel Kasongo, Joris Van Acker, Hans Beeckman

Climate station in YangambiIn the Democratic Republic of Congo, world’s second most forest-rich country after Brazil, climate change monitoring for improving forest and agronomic research is rare. In the framework of the PhD project of Emmanuel Kasongo, focused on "Management of African economic trees in facing to climate change in Congo Basin rainforests”, daily temperature and precipitation data sheets from 1981 to 2020 at INERA-Yangambi were digitized and encoded. In order to obtain the recent longest and most complete records, both in terms of main variables measured (temperature and precipitation) and in terms of continuity of the time series, additional activities will complete the meteorological records from archives of INERA-YGB for the 1961-1980 period. These climate data might be combined with the COBECORE ( project data to have unique long-term meteorological (~ 1910-2020) data records, and connect to other projects related to climate change research and sustainable management of Congo Basin rainforests.

-> MITBRIC: MIllennial-length Temperature reconstructions based on advanced tree-ring data of BRistlecone pine: essential Input for Climate change projections (FWO junior postdoc: 2019-2022)

Contact: Tom De Mil, Jan Van den Bulcke

Methuselah Fieldwork mission - Tom De MilGlobal warming will have a destabilizing impact on society. Therefore, predicting future temperature increase is crucial. This can be done by studying trees as they are sensors of their environment, and they store this data in their rings: wide and small rings indicate varying growing conditions. Since trees register climate  already far earlier than humans did, these ‘treemometers’ are key witnesses of global warming. Rings of ancient bristlecone pines from Southwest USA, the oldest trees in the world, were used for temperature reconstructions, showing dramatically increased temperatures during the last decades. Maximum Latewood Density (MXD), the density of the heaviest wood cells measured at the end of each ring, is a better predictor of temperature than ring width but has not yet been recorded for bristlecone pine because it is hard to measure. In this project, I will generate the first temperature reconstruction based on MXD of bristlecone pine using a set of high-tech tools. MXD and other density data will be examined in tandem with novel records such as elemental content of tree rings.  The multi-millennial record from these ancient trees thus puts current climate change in the context of changes in the past. Data generated from this project will thus make climate predictions more accurate, which is more urgent than ever. Supervisors: Prof. Jan Van den Bulcke, Prof. Valerie Trouet, Prof. Charlotte Pearson, Dr. Matt Salzer. 

-> Physical properties of various selected triploid poplar clones (INBO: 2020)

Contact: Joris Van Acker, Stijn Willen

Within the framework of the selection and breeding of poplar clones for quality wood production, this study assesses some physical properties of various selected INBO poplar clones.

Physical properties are analysed by semi-automatic processing of scanned wood disks and destructive and non-destructive measurements of the strength properties.

These criteria can then added to the common used criteria as resistance to diseases, rooting capacity, soil plasticity,…

-> BioBuildFun: fungal susceptibility of bio-based building materials: a multi-scale assessment (FWO-SB: 2017-2020)

Contact: Joris Van Acker

CT cross-section through a mini-block test on beechThere is a clear shift in the construction sector towards sustainable buildings. Bio-based materials, e.g. wood, wood engineered products, bamboo, flax, hemp, etc., are key in this context. At one hand, bio-based materials are biodegradable thus simplifying the end-of-life processing. At the other hand, when favourable moisture and temperature conditions are present, the functional and aesthetic service life of bio-based materials can decrease by fungal disfigurement and degradation. By means of this project we want to gain more insight regarding the fungal susceptibility of bio-based building materials. The role of a material’s spatial structure, chemical components and moisture dynamics on its fungal susceptibility is unravelled by making use of state-of-the-art optical (2-D) and X-ray CT (3-D) imaging and related processing.

-> HerbaXylaREDD (BELSPO-BRAIN: 2015-2020)

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Tropical forests are in the focus of international efforts on climate change mitigation and biodiversity preservation. Up-to-date forest management, conservation and enforcement mechanisms need to be founded on solid science. Worldwide, the federal Xylarium (RMCA) and Herbarium (Botanic Garden Meise) are by far the most important reference collections for Central African forests. Still, they can both be considered 'sleeping beauties' because substantial scientific research is necessary to exploit fully the invaluable information sources and to make the collection databases compatible with international databases online available (TRY, DRYAD, GBIF, GlobAllomeTree). In order to renew, complement and strengthen the reference value of both the Herbarium and the Xylarium, HERBAXYLAREDD aims at generating knowledge, through analysis of specimens, traits and meta-data, on Central African forest ecosystems and forest products. Newly generated data will allow exploring functional strategies, growth and the genetic structure of tree species, an optimized distribution map of tree species, technological aspects of lesser-used timber species, carbon stocks of forests and energy content of Central African woody species. Given the high diversity, we will focus on the following target groups: undergrowth versus dominant forest species, lesser used timbers and species for bio-energy.
UGent-Woodlab will put their main focus on the wood technology of these lesser-used timber species with the development of an in-depth methodology to determine the dimensional stability in the first stages of the project. Later on the focus will shift to color-measurements of several timber species and the determination of calorific values and mechanical strength data.

> More info on the HerbaXylaREDD website.

-> TimberFrameRot (FWO: 2014-2018) 

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Due to the increasingly stringent energy efficiency requirements, timber frame constructions (often as low-energy or passive houses) can be found all over Europe. Though, the circumstances (indoor/outdoor boundary conditions, composition of the wall,…) in which the constructions are used often differ. This can lead to a different hygrothermal behaviour and increase the risk on early failing by mould growth and wood rot, especially with the growing tendency to use untreated wood. At present, several simplifications and shortcomings exist in the different research fields to predict and avoid moisture related biological damage in timber frame constructions in a reliable way. By joining the know-how and expertise of UGent-Woodlab and the Building Physics Section of KU Leuven ( lead by Prof. Staf Roels), the current project aims at the development of a reliable risk assessment methodology for mould growth and wood rot on timber frame constructions. This requires an overall methodology based on fundamental research and input on different aspects. First of all, as several of the determining parameters are stochastic in nature, a probabilistic framework is proposed. Focus will be on efficient sampling methods, sensitivity analysis and metamodelling to identify the critical influencing parameters and sequences of boundary conditions. In combination with advances in hygrothermal simulation of timber frame constructions and elaborated resistance prediction models based on dynamic measurements, an overall stochastic risk assessment method is envisaged.

-> Silex (LIFE+)

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Construction is the largest industrial sector employer in the EU. The “cradle to grave” aspects linked with the creation, use and disposal of buildings, however, create major environmental problems. Construction activities consume more raw materials than any other industrial sector; and as a result also account for the largest share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: accounting for some 40% of the total GHG emissions in terms of energy use. Furthermore, construction and demolition activities produce the largest waste stream – some 25% of European total waste (78% of which is concrete cement-based products, 11% wood). Improving the durability of different construction materials, such as concrete and wood, would allow substantial benefits in terms of raw materials use, related energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and waste quantities. The overall objective of this project is to extend the lifetime and usability of constructions made of wood and/or cement, by applying environmental friendly silicon-based water repellents. This will reduce emissions of harmful volatile organic compounds by 80-90% in comparison with state-of-the-art concrete and reduce the use of biocides in the conservation of some wood species (e.g. pine, beech).

Research on the wood quality of wild cherry (Prunus avium L.)

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Research on the wood quality of wild cherry

To meet the demand for cherry wood for high-quality decorative applications one needs qualitative breeding material. Trees from then different families of the INBO plantations in Borchtlombeek and Deinze were sampled to assess the use of some physical and colour parameters as selection criteria for breeding programs.

Physical parameters as basal area, density and heartwood, bark and tension wood portion were determined via differential weighing and image analysis of scanned disks.

The colour of sap- and heartwood of boards was measured with a spectrophotometer and expressed in CIE L*a*b* values.

Physical and calorimetric properties of various selected poplar and willow clones

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Physical and calorimetric properties

Within the framework of the selection and breeding of poplar an willow clones for short coppice rotation this study assesses some physical and calorimetric properties of various selected INBO poplar and willow clones. Sampled trees were grown under different conditions, namely in Belgian vs. Italian climate or on polluted soils.

Physical properties are analysed by differential weighing and semi-automatic processing of scanned wood disk, whereas the energy content of subsamples is determined using bomcalorimetry.

These criteria can then added to the common used criteria as resistance to diseases, rooting capacity, soil plasticity,…

High-resolution dendro-proxies as climate indicators in the tropics

Contact: Joris Van Acker, Tom De Mil

The objective is to develop highly detailed measurements of tropical tree growth archived in tree rings and to link these with phenology, life-history strategy and response of trees to their environment and climate. The research will focus on African tropical forests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and will further build upon the archives of phenological records of the Forest Reserve of Luki and the vast amount of material present in the Royal Museum of Central Africa (RMCA). Based on latter available information, field work will be carried out in the Forest Reserves of Luki and Yangambi, including sampling and phenological monitoring of a selection of tree species which grow over a wide range. Tree rings will be investigated using dendrochronology, anatomical research and high-end techniques resolving structural and chemical information along the growth trajectory of tropical trees. Combining all datasets (phenology, growth, high-resolution data, climate etc.) will lead to important fundamental knowledge. Mapping this response of tropical trees to climate is necessary to understand the origin of the rainforest biodiversity and to predict its fate under current environmental changes and is also highly relevant for improving conservation and management strategies of tropical rainforests and assess their role in the carbon balance.

DO-IT HOUTBOUW: Sustainable innovation in wooden buildings

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Het project DO-IT HOUTBOUW focust op elke houten draagstructuur voor applicatie in nieuwbouw, verbouwing, aanbouwen of herbouwen. Een breed spectrum van typegebouwen wordt opgenomen binnen de projectdoelstelling (alleenstaande gezinswoning, rijwoning, appartementsgebouwen, scholen, kantoren en industriële gebouwen) met steeds focus op laag energie tot energieneutrale gebouwen (EU 2020 doelstellingen). De missie van het project bestaat erin houtbouw versneld uit te bouwen (2017) tot een volwaardige en flexibele bouwwijze met oplossingen voor elk type van gebouw en/of set van eisen binnen de Vlaamse context en aldus Vlaanderen een pioniersrol te geven om deze kennis ook te valideren in een internationaal kader (2020). De hoofddoelstelling van dit project is het brede spectrum van houtbouwsystemen sneller klaar te maken om de bijna energie neutrale gebouwen van de toekomst te kunnen realiseren. Hierbij wil het project de gehele houtbouwsector en zijn toeleveranciers ondersteunen om de aanwezige natuurlijke trend van meer houten gebouwen te versnellen en te versterken (cf. economische impact). Dit laatste wil het project realiseren door specifieke, gescoorde en gevalideerde totaaloplossingen met een onderbouwd en geïntegreerd instrumentarium (modellen, meetopstellingen,…) en blijvend innovatieplatform (webinfo, technische advisering, projectbegeleiding,…) aan te bieden ter ondersteuning van de hiervoor noodzakelijke investeringen.

> More info on the project website:

FlaxPreComp: Development of low-cost flax preforms for high-performance composites

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Up to now flax fibres for composite applications have been processed by traditional fibre extraction processes that were originally aimed at textile applications. Those treatments intended to come to fine and pure fibres forming a strong yarn are detrimental for the mechanical properties of the flax fibre itself as each extra processing step induces more damage to the fibre. Moreover, the strong twist of the fibres in a yarn caused misorientation and with that reduced stiffness and strength of the resulting composites. The goal of this project is to develop price competitive flax based preforms for high-quality composites. To reach this objective, first an evaluation method must be developed to select suitable flax fibres for composites. Furthermore the development and stabilisation of a continuous, homogeneous flax tape based on scutched flax and the optimisation of the fibre pre-processing (retting, braking, scotching) for the new developed process is planned.

I-Love-T: Inoculation of local fibre rich flows for the production of sustainable cultivation substrates

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Ornamental plant cultivation has two important bottlenecks that can determine growth potential of the sector: the high dependence of peat for the production of qualitative substrates, while the availability of peat is not always guarantied and the raising restrictions on plant protection products. For the realisation of the production of sustainable substrates, this projects looks for the development of an innovative peat replacer that has disease and/or infestation suppressing properties by inoculating a biocontrol fungus on local available plant fibres (reed, miscanthus and flax shives).

Trees4Future: designing trees for the future

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Trees4FutureMajor forest infrastructure will be opened up to researchers from the public and private sectors across Europe thanks to this project. For the first time key infrastructures within the European forest based sector, including databases, state-of-the-art analytical tools and predictive models will be integrated and made available via a user-friendly, central access portal.

The four-year Trees4Future project aims to integrate major forestry resources and infrastructures, to provide the European forest-based and wider research community with easy and comprehensive access to currently scattered sources of information and expertise. UGent-Woodlab gives access to the X-ray tomography scanner and the DSC-TGA equipment (see Equipment page).

The project will create a centralized access point via its web portal to major European databases in the area of forest genetics and forest ecology, and start to develop common protocols and reference standards for traits and species. Calls for transnational access will be made, so that researchers can take advantage of the joint expertise, services and data of the 28 partners in the project. (source:

> More info on the project website:

A combined experimental and modeling approach of the hygro-mechanical behavior of wood-based panels

Contact: Joris Van Acker, Wanzhao Li

Moisture dynamics

Wood-based panels are increasingly used in the building industry both for outdoor as well as indoor applications, more specifically as roof and wall sheathing. These wood-based panels are as such exposed to a whole range of environmental conditions in service. Their structural bearing capacity is well-known in standard mean circumstances, but the influence of temperature, moisture, related dimensional changes and possible subsequent biodegradation on their strength is only revealed to a limited level based on fundamental knowledge.

A crucial completion to the research on wood-based panels, more specifically particleboard and oriented strand board, is the elaboration on a fundamental model starting from the structural composition of these panels. This research foresees as such in an integrated view on panel behavior by modeling the mechanics of these wood-based panels like OSB in relation to the impact of moisture dynamics under specific climates.


Contact: Joris Van Acker

Logo PerformWoodThe project objective is to kick-start the development of new standards to enable the service life specification of wood and wood based materials for construction. This is critical to ensure the future sustainable use of European forests, to ensure customers of wood products get satisfactory and reliable products and to provide supplementary evidence for life cycle evaluations of construction products. This supporting action will utilise the wealth of research data that exists to analyse material test standards (CEN TC38) for their ability to inform on service life and performance.
Historical field data will be reanalysed to extract more information on performance and this will be brought alongside service life expectation information gathered from various user groups. It will connect the material resistance with the moisture risk to inform on service life expectations.

Palaeobotanical reconstructions of Central African forest boundary dynamics

Contact: Joris Van Acker, Wannes Hubau

PhD Wannes Hubau

Charcoal can be formed during natural fires (lightning) or human-induced fires. It is an inert material which can be preserved in soil layers for a very long time. Moreover, as many anatomical details are preserved, it is possible to identify individual fragments. However, this 'natural archive' has never been explored in Central Africa.

Therefore, this PhD project aims at the development of Central African ancient charcoal analysis. Charcoal fragments are collected in soil profiles in natural environments and in ancient human settlements. Some of these fragments are radiocarbon dated and visualised using Reflected Light Microscopy (RLM), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Computed X-Ray Tomography (µCT).

Furthermore, we developed a transparent charcoal identification protocol using large databases, wood anatomical descriptions (InsideWood) and the World's largest reference collection of microscopic thin sections of Central African wood specimens (RMCA, Tervuren). As such, we reconstruct ancient environments and we assess past vegetation and climate change.


Contact: Joris Van Acker

NOVELTREE is a EU financed project designed to enable significant genetic improvement of the composition and characteristics of forest products to satisfy the needs (quality, quantity, sustainability, vulnerability) of consumers and the forest-based sector. UGent-Woodlab specifically helps in developing a high-throughput tool-chain for characterization of wood material for selection purposes.


Contact: Joris Van Acker

Moisture dynamics

Moisture dynamics of plywood is used to identify critical parameters in production and composition of plywood to come to better performance related to limited time of wetness. Furthermore, the effect of coatings on the durability and service life of coated plywood products is determined.
An assessment engineering tool is developed during this short term project. In the long run this draft tool will be extended to a ‘predictive engineering tool’ for adequate prediction of moisture behaviour and related service life prediction of optimised plywood. As such this project enlarges the knowledge on the moisture behaviour of plywood on a fundamental level as well as tries to come to a practical approach for plywood testing regarding its moisture dynamics, which is related to durability.

Development of a systematic colour assessment for the optimisation and innovation at the production of oak wood furniture and parquet

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Development of a systematic colour assessment

As furniture and parquet producers have complaints about oak wood elements in a product with a too deviant colour, one needs an objective colour measurement to communicate unambiguously.

The CIE L*C*hab colour space is the most appropriate to describe wood colour objectively. In this project the spectrophotometer that could group specimens with most accordance to visually determined colour groups was selected, various colour grading algorithms to sort specimens were evaluated and a vast measuring methodology for measuring larger wood samples was developed.

Finally the colour change due to transparent finishes and due to weathering of finished and unfinished surfaces was analysed.

Woodexter: Service life and performance of exterior wood above ground

Contact: Joris Van Acker

The main objective of WoodExter was to develop a practical tool for design of wood constructions with respect to durability and service life, based on a similar approach as used in structural design which is familiar to engineers and architects. It was decided to focus on decking and cladding, two major end uses for wood as two test case products to rigorously assess the methodology. The key outcome of WoodExter is a guidance document “Engineering design guideline for wood in above ground applications”.

> more information can be found in following document.

Optiwoodcoat: Optimalisation of service life, maintenance and certification of future-oriented exterior wooden joinery by durable use of water based coating systems

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Outdoor exposure of window frames

Both consecutive projects aimed at establishing an assessment methodology for wood coating systems with focus on setting requirements for an adequate performance.

The developed assessment methodology is based on the European (pre)standards for exterior wooden joinery coatings taking into account physicochemical weathering, moisture dynamics and biological aspects. For each single test minimal requirements for a sound wood coating system are defined. However, to predict the performance of a coating system for exterior joinery during natural weathering a combination of these requirements is used.

Based on the criteria developed in the project a model to certify finished wooden joinery has been drafted.

Cultivation and processing of flax as a basis for a bio based economy in Flanders

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Cultivation and processing of flax

Flax is used for fibre and oil applications, but the different sectors are not involved in each other’s activities.

This project consulted flax growers, the various users, researchers and literature to make a state of the art of the knowledge of the flax plant and cultivation and the common and potential future uses.

A gap analysis reveals to what extent the present knowledge and technology can meet the needs and questions from the flax sectors. Interfaces between the two sectors and common objectives will be used to prepare research towards the cultivation of a flax plant that can be optimally exploited.

Biodegradability of wood polymer composites

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Biodegradability of wood polymer composites

In contrast with outdated statement that wood particles in WPC are completely encapsulated and inaccessible, moisture sorption of and even fungal growth on WPC is often demonstrated.

As standards for fungal testing of this material refers to standards developed for wood based panels, the moisture behaviour of WPC was compared to that of wood based panels.

Moisture sorption of WPC is significantly slower, but reaches after levels of moisture content all above the minimum level for fungal growth. This study indicated that a specific standard for testing biodegradability of natural fibre composites must be developed, taking this alternative moisture behaviour into account.

Advanced composites based on modified natural fibres - Accessibility and reactivity of natural fibres for materials with improved mechanical and physical performance

Contact: Joris Van Acker

Advanced composites based on modified natural fibres

Poor fibre/matrix adhesion is an obstacle for high performance natural fibre composites. Several fibre treatments were tested with flax and treated flax being processed into epoxy or polypropylene composites.

The effect of the treatments was visualised by SEM and micro-CT images of fibres and broken composites. Three point bending tests and pull out tests were used to assess the strength properties of the resulting composites.

Concerning durability, the moisture dynamics of the treated fibres and the dynamical stability of the composites were determined, as well as the biological durability of treated fibres and its composites.