The decay resistance of chemically modified softwood
The purpose of this study was to assess the decay resistance of wood modified with a variety of chemicals and to attempt to further understand the mechanism by which chemical modification protects wood from decay. Corsican pine (Pinus nigra) sapwood was modified with three cyclic anhydrides; succinic anhydride, alkenyl succinic anhydride (a derivative of succinic anhydride with a 16-18 carbon alkenyl chain) and phthalic anhydride, and with two more widely studied modifying chemicals; acetic anhydride and butyl isocyanate. All reactions were carried out using pyridine as solvent and catalyst. Modified wood was tested against decay fungi in a pure culture test against basidiomycete fungi (Coniophora puteana, Gloeophyllum trabeum, Trametes versicolor and Pycnoporus sanguineus) under different moisture content regimes, an unsterile soil soft rot test, a fungal cellar test and a field trial. Butyl isocyanate proved the most effective modifying chemical at protecting wood from decay, followed by acetic anhydride and then alkenyl succinic anhydride. Uneven distribution of the modifying chemical in wood was evident using each of these three chemicals, particularly in the case of acetic anhydride. Despite its apparent ability to control decay by basidiomycete fungi, alkenyl succinic anhydride was unable to completely protect wood from soft rot fungi. Phthalic and succinic anhydride modifications both proved susceptible to hydrolysis and leaching, and neither were effective as wood protection chemicals. Phthalic anhydride modified wood performed well in the pure culture test, apparently through biocidal action, but was susceptible to decay in unsterile conditions. The approach made in this study to understanding the mechanism of protection was to analyse physical properties of the modified wood cell wall. This involved the measurement of adsorption isotherms, volumetric swell due to water soak, and cell wall pore size (using the solute exclusion technique). Neither the moisture content of modified wood nor its cell wall moisture content (measured as the fibre saturation point from the adsorption analysis) provided a good explanation of decay resistance. In several cases, the relationship between volumetric swell (due to water soak) and weight loss (to a given fungus in pure culture) was found to be consistent between modification types. From this it is concluded that the extent by which water swells modified wood is important to decay resistance. A reduction in cell wall pore volume was measured using the solute exclusion technique, though no further conclusions could be drawn from this test. It is proposed that the mechanism of resistance to decay by basidiomycete fungi involves the blocking of cell wall pores, which restricts the access of degradative agents released by decay fungi. The amount by which wood swells is important in this theory since this will determine by how much transient pores in modified wood can open, and whether enough space is created to bypass this blocking effect. The possibility of the role of site substitution in decay resistance is not discounted, and may contribute to decay resistance, particularly against white rot fungi. Pore blocking is not thought to be the mechanism of protection against soft rot fungi. In this case the substitution and shielding of decay susceptible sites are thought to be more important.