KONGRES MAGAZINE INTERVIEW: This is the material of the future …

Franc Pohleven, Photo credit: www.carlesa.si
Franc Pohleven, Photo credit: www.carlesa.si

Interview with Prof.Dr. Franc Pohleven, founder and organiser of the popular and renowned exhibition Charm of Wood yearly hosted and co-organised in Cankarjev dom – CD Cultural and Congress Centre Ljubljana.

Today, the Charm of Wood (Čar lesa), the beloved and popular Slovenian exhibition opened its door in Cankarjev dom – CD Cultural and Congress Centre Ljubljana for the 12th time. The exhibition promotes wood and wood products with a focus on raising consumer awareness of the sustainable aspect of wood use and promoting the recycle and use of wooden products. So much more important today when the world is trying to find new paths towards the sustainable future, the Charm of Wood has been for 12 years held every year in cooperation with and inside of the Cankarjev dom – CD Cultural and Congress Centre Ljubljana. We talked to Prof.Dr. Franc Pohleven from the Biotechnical Faculty Ljubljana, founder and organiser of the exhibition on the value and importance of the wood in our daily lives and future. The exhibition is welcoming visitors until the 8th of September 2020.

Q: How did you get the idea for the Charm of Wood exhibition?

Out of anger, to be fair. In 2005, the burning of wood biomass was promoted in Slovenia and around the world, and people were even able to get grants to buy furnaces. I, on the other hand, began to draw attention to the nonsense of burning, and in 2005 I organized an international meeting at the Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Wood Science and Technology entitled Wood, Fuel or Material. I had hoped the consultation would change people’s mind, but I experienced ridicule. Then, in 2007, I had a discussion with the director of the congress and commercial program at Cankarjev domMrs Breda Pečovnik, about organizing a promotional exhibition of wood products. The director understood the need to make people aware of this topic, so we started planning the first exhibition together in 2008, which was then premiered in 2009. Our purpose was not to make another exhibition fair, but to rather go in promotional direction, to make people aware how using wood for products, instead of burning it, contributes the most to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We opted for a non-commercial (non-fair) approach, as promotion is more effective for raising awareness than a fair. The information gets closer to people’s hearts.

We have been cooperating with Cankarjev dom for 12 years now and I am extremely grateful to Cankarjev dom for the cooperation, for their understanding of the importance of wood processing and the use of wood products for the environment and our future. I hope and wish that the exhibitions in the Cankarjev dom will continue even without me and my colleagues. Just as Cankarjev dom is a temple of culture, wood products are also part of the culture. Wood processing and the use of wood for products is a moral act – it is an ethical attitude towards the environment and human. And here I see it connected to Cankarjev dom, which supports the care for the environment, and this is also an act of culture.

Q: The exhibition is very relevant, as it emphasizes the importance of wood in the future. What does the exhibition want to teach, to show?

I want to highlight several aspects. The first is that wood is the only Slovenian raw material. We have no other – wood is our wealth. I am saddened by the fact that we sell logs abroad, where our wood is processed into products, while we import fossil raw materials from abroad, such as iron ore, bauxite, raw materials for plastics, etc. and process them with imported energy and environmental pollution into steel, aluminium, plastics …

Another aspect is that we cannot fight climate change by burning wood. I am of the opinion that the greenest energy is not the one that comes from biomass, but the greenest is the one that we do not consume. The burning of wood releases CO2, but if healthy trees in the commercial forest are cut down at the mature stage and the logs are processed into products, CO2 is preserved in wood products and facilities for decades to come. It also makes no sense to reduce CO2 emissions in Slovenia by expanding forest areas, as we already have more than 60% of Slovenia overgrown with forests. Overgrowing reduces agricultural land, impoverishes the cultural landscape and biodiversity.

The third aspect is that processing provides jobs that are tied to our raw material, which should be processed at home, in Slovenia, into products with the highest possible added value. The fourth important aspect is that the processing and use of wood do not pollute the environment, does not cause waste, but it produces residues that can be processed into advanced materials with modern technologies, or we can use them as an energy source, but only if we can not use it differently. While the waste management (safe destruction) of other raw materials, such as plastics, consumes a lot of resources, it is not negligible that landfill fires cause poisoning of the atmosphere, soil and water, which greatly endangers human health. Steel plants produce CO2. The production of steel, aluminium and stone and glass wool is very harmful to both the environment and human.

Q: What all can we make out of wood? What things could we use in wood?

In advanced EU countries, wood is becoming increasingly popular in construction. In the field of woodworking, top research is taking place in the world and in our country. Over the last twenty years, researchers have confirmed that practically everything we now produce from oil can be made from wood. But oil must be extracted from the depths of the earth, and wood in the forests is created by the sun from CO2 – photosynthesis. Nanocrystalline and nanofibrillated cellulose is known to be seven times stronger than steel wire of the same diameter. It can be used in medicine, space technology, and wherever steel and plastic are used. This is the material of the future and in the USA, this valuable material is already produced from sawdust, twigs and other wood residues, while in Slovenia, we still burn these residues and stimulate this significantly through the Eco Fund.

In Japan, they have already made a car out of nanofibrillated cellulose. We can also make construction products from glued wood composites, such as joinery, and cross-glued panels are increasingly used for walls, which we now import from abroad for the construction of wooden houses. However, they are made of Slovenian logs, as we do not have a wood factory for the production of cross-laminated boards. Even according to a recently published study, measures against the coronavirus in March and April this year have drastically reduced energy consumption and consequently drastically reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, when the economy is restarted (revived), we should switch to the timber industry, which would help maintain this positive decline.

And if anywhere in the world, we should give priority to supporting the wood industry in Slovenia, and not as we do now, when we support the metal processing industry, because we have neither raw materials nor our own energy for this, and we are both raw material and energy-dependent abroad. Processing domestic wood would reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, provide jobs in rural areas and employ locals, reduce daily migration, fuel and car consumption, reduce road congestion and reduce traffic accidents. People would gain in the time they now spend driving, as well as identify more with their place of residence. In short, the transition to the wood industry would enable the decentralization of our economy, the development of the regions and, above all, would contribute to the progress of the countryside (the development of “smart villages”).

Q: Would you like to highlight any of the events at the exhibition?

Perhaps it is interesting that in 2009 and 2010 the Charm of Wood exhibition had already exhibited a wooden bicycle, wooden glasses, a wooden tie, bow ties … At that time, visitors found it weird, but now wooden glasses are a hit. The fact is that together with Cankarjev dom we were breaking new grounds in the field of wood promotion and that with the exhibitions The Charm of Wood in Cankarjev dom and elsewhere in Slovenia, we impressed people with wood. However, because plastic products are cheaper than wooden ones due to the unilateral support of the state, people who buy wooden ones are “punished”. While, on the other hand, when they buy plastic (for example windows),  they are rewarded with a low price.

With the Charm of Wood events, Cankarjev dom contributed to the fact that people began to perceive the importance and usefulness of wood. Unfortunately, the state gives too little importance to wood and the wood industry. The Eco-fund is more about burning than processing and using wood. I am not against burning, as this is also necessary, but I still think logically and I am against exclusive wood burning, and I emphasize the importance of processing, where the production of products as a by-product would create residues for heating. And perhaps I would like to emphasize once again that the only raw material we have in Slovenia is wood. We do not have ore, we do not have energy. And our wood can be processed into products and facilities with a little energy that we do not have, thus we would become less energy and raw material dependent on imports. I mean, if we are energy and raw material dependent on the rest of the world, can we truly be politically independent?

Kongres Magazine