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UVa Wood Flows Virginia Sophia Lee Wood Systems Model | Built by Sophia Lee with help from M Levy, D Kulukundis, K Reed, L McQuistion, AJ Artemel, C Killien, S Porcello, L Phinney | Photo by Sophia Lee
Wood Systems Model | front | Sophia Lee

Author: Sophia Lee

Wood Systems Model     The intent of building the Wood Systems Model was to understand the interaction between the different systems involved in the forest industry. The component systems are: Forest, Manufacturing Process, Use, Material Recovery Facility, and Landfill.

UVa Wood Flows Virginia Materials Research Sophia Lee

Forest     The Forest system begins the wood flow. The dowels represent the trees harvested in Virginia in 2007. The different heights refer to the average heights of tree species harvested, with the number of dowels of a given height proportional to the harvest volume of the species.[1] The rotation lengths refer to the number of years it takes to harvest a stand of trees. These are separated into hardwoods and softwoods.

Manufacturing Process    From roundwood, manufacturing facilities transform wood into countless different products. In the model, the facilities are the thin white buttresses arranged into seven vertical rows. The ribbons flowing between the facilities represent wood as it transforms from one product to another (e.g. pulpwood to paperboard). The varying widths of the ribbon in the first vertical row of facilities (Saw Logs, Pulpwood, Composite Panel, and Veneer) refer to the percentage of each type of wood product 2007.[2] The narrowing ribbon widths refer to the diminishing quantity of wood at each stage. The facilities’ height change refers to the diminishing size of the actual pieces of wood.

UVa Wood Flows Virginia Materials Research Sophia LeeSawdust becomes Fuel | Photo by Sophia Lee

The clear boxes with copper wire in front represent sawdust collection at these facilities. Sawdust is burned as fuel. We discovered that forest industries are extremely efficient with wood use for economic reasons: the greater the proportion of wood they use from their raw materials, the greater the return on their investment.

UVa Wood Flows Virginia Materials Research Sophia LeeUse+MRF+Landfill Intersection | Photo by Sophia Lee

Use   From the linear Manufacturing Process, the ribbons enter the Use box. This represents the point where the Manufacturing Process is finished and the product is sold. Until this point, everything as been white because every piece of wood can be tracked. The Use box is black because during this stage, forest products are not typically tracked. For example, a hotel chain may use a dresser for two years before remodeling, or a handmade rocking chair may stay in the family for generations. The Use box supports the Manufacturing Process through cantilevers because human use drives the industry.

Material Recovery   A small portion of used forest products can be recovered and re-used at a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) such as Ace Recycling. To be capable of reuse, the wood cannot be treated with any chemicals. Dimension lumber end cuts from construction and demolition (C&D) waste are excellent candidates. Usually, the facility chips the wood to remove metal (nails, staples, etc.) more easily. Chipped wood can re-enter the manufacturing process as raw material for particleboard or for mulch. Paper is also great to recycle and can be recycled up to eleven times

UVa Wood Flows Virginia Materials Research Sophia LeeLandfill | Photo by Sophia Lee

Landfill   The really astonishing discovery of this model was to see just how many products usually directly enter the landfill. Is there a way to change Manufacturing Process or current Use practices to avoid these wasteful practices and Close the Loop?


[1] Jason Cooper and Charles W. Becker. “Virginia’s timber industry – an assessment of timber product output and use, 2007Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station (2009), 7.

[2] Cooper and Becker, 6.

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