Modern Instrumental Methods to Investigate the Mechanism of Biological Decay in Wood Plastic Composites

IRG/WP 14-40674

G Sun, R Ibach, M Gnatowski, J Glaeser, M Leung, J Haight

Various instrumental techniques were used to study the fungal decay process in wood plastic composite (WPC) boards. Commercial boards exposed near Hilo, Hawaii (HI) for eight years in both sun and shadow locations were inspected and tested periodically. After eight years of exposure, both boards were evaluated using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), while a selected area of the board exposed in shadow was additionally tested using microscopy and micro x-ray computed tomography (CT). Experimental boards exposed to either exterior conditions in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) or a laboratory decay process were used for verification of MRI and CT results obtained from the commercial board. MRI detected the presence of free water and its distribution in the exposed commercial board samples tested. Fibre saturation in the experimental board was found to be about 22%, in comparison to 27 – 30% present in most wood species. There was good correlation between the detection of free water by MRI and by destructive testing. Reconstructed volumes from CT scans of the tested boards allowed for the WPC microstructure to be observed in various planes of view and for void analysis of the material to be conducted. A significantly higher average percentage volume of voids was detected in the exposed sample compared to its reference unexposed counterpart. CT scans and subsequent void analysis of the experimental soil block culture test samples of known weight loss in wood demonstrated this technique to be reasonably accurate in the detection of voids created due to biological decay. No obvious relationship was established between the presence of free water detected by MRI and the average volume of voids detected by CT. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) confirmed the presence of fungal mycelia in the exposed commercial board cross-section imaged by both MRI and CT. It was confirmed that both MRI and micro CT could be used for non-destructive evaluations of WPC materials, including their decay process. This work also found that many different decay fungi species could colonize and internally damage WPC, and that fungal decay in WPC seems to be a self-propagating process requiring an initiation time period where no obvious decay damage is observed.

Keywords: computed tomography, exterior exposure, magnetic resonance imaging, microstructure, moisture content, scanning electron microscopy, soil block culture test, water absorption, wood plastic composite, void analysis

Conference: 14-05-11/15 St George, Utah, USA

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