Bengaluru-based scientist duo’s innovative approach to avoid chemical treatment bears fruit

A five-year-long research by scientists of the Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST) has resulted in finding an organic natural plant extract for treatment of rubber wood to preserve it better and make it stronger to match its friendly pricing.
While teakwood and rosewood, which are categorised as Class 1, have natural properties to protect themselves against termites and vagaries of weather, rubber wood falls in Category III, which means that it is susceptible to termite attack and may not be long lasting without treatment. Currently, rubber wood is treated with chemicals to increase its shelf life.
Scientists D. Venmalar and K.K. Pandey of the Wood Processing Division at IWST have developed organic plant extracts for developing eco-friendly wood preservatives. A combination of pongamia (honge) seed oil, cashew shell liquid, neem oil and specialised extracts of five other leaves and barks, including the acacia bark, which yielded remarkable results to fight insecticidal and fungicidal attacks on rubber wood.
The scientist duo took up rubber wood timber cut according to BIS standards, and seasoned them for treating them in open fields. Their treatments over the years have shown them as being 6 to 8 times more resistant to pests.
“We compared them with untreated timber left over in the fields. As rubber wood attracts termites and is highly perishable, we treated it with pongamia seed oil as its anti-septic properties extended a protective shield by making it resistant to pests, Ms. Venmalar said. These organic alternative treatments can help us see rubber wood in a different perspective and not get obsessed with teak. Rubber trees are inexpensive compared to teak as they belong to plantation timber,” she added.
Comparing their finding with that of the inorganic chemical based treatments currently used in the industry, she said: “Timber health cannot be maintained with chemical treatments that has heavy metals as copper, chromium and arsenic elements in the mix.”
The organic study also leads to conclusions that timber as mango, eucalyptus, honne and mathi that also belong to Class III in their resistance to pests as rubber wood can be treated with the same plant extracts.
This increases their marketability making them stronger and helping the lesser extraction of forest green.