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The Relative Importance of Real-World and Accelerated Test Data When Evaluating Wood Preservatives

Methods for Evaluating Wood Preservatives

When it comes to evaluating wood preservatives, accelerated wood tests are a common method. However, these tests have limitations due to their inability to replicate the complex interactions found in natural environments. Relying solely on accelerated tests to predict how wood preservatives perform in the real world has its limitations, even though these tests provide valuable insights. It’s crucial to combine these accelerated tests with real-world testing for a more complete understanding of wood preservative performance.

Inadequate Simulation of Natural Weathering

Utility pole in Italian fieldAccelerated wood tests aim to mimic natural weathering through controlled cycles of UV light, moisture, and temperature changes over short periods. While this can provide an idea of how a wood preservative might perform, it doesn’t account for the variability and complexity of real-world conditions. Natural weathering involves varying angles of sunlight, fluctuating temperatures, intermittent rainfall, and seasonal changes – all of which interact in ways that are difficult to replicate in a lab setting. 

For instance, changes in wood colour due to natural weathering are gradual and influenced by numerous factors, including the direction the wood faces relative to the sun and its exposure to elements like rain and wind. These variables create a dynamic environment that accelerated tests can’t fully emulate, leading to discrepancies between test results and actual performance in outdoor settings.

Challenges with Chemical Leaching

Another critical aspect where accelerated tests fall short is in simulating chemical leaching in wood. Leaching refers to the process by which preservative chemicals are washed out of the wood by rainwater or migrate to the soil. In real-world conditions, this process is influenced by the type and amount of rainfall, the drying time between rain events, and the specific wood and preservative types involved.

Accelerated tests typically use extreme conditions on small wood samples over short periods, which can lead to overestimations or underestimations of leaching rates. For example, studies have shown that the leaching of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) from treated wood varies significantly with natural rainfall patterns and the intervals of drying between rains, while leaching of water-repellent wood preservatives under accelerated testing can be significantly lower than observed in corresponding real-world use. These nuances are difficult to capture in a laboratory setting, where the conditions are more controlled and less variable.

The Use of Controlled Fungal Species

A key difference is the controlled fungal species used in accelerated tests versus the variety encountered in real-world environments. Accelerated tests typically use a limited set of fungal species, often focusing on the most aggressive wood-decaying fungi to ensure rapid results. For instance, common species used include Aureobasidium pullulans, Aspergillus niger, and Penicillium spp. These fungi are selected for their ability to thrive under the artificial conditions created in laboratory settings, such as high humidity and controlled temperature, which are designed to expedite fungal growth and wood decay.

In contrast, real-world conditions expose wood to a broader spectrum of fungal species that vary based on geographical location, climate, and environmental factors. These fungi interact with the wood in more complex ways, influenced by fluctuating moisture levels, temperature changes, and the presence of other microorganisms. This diversity and variability can significantly impact the effectiveness of wood preservatives in real-world use, as some preservatives may be more effective against the fungi used in laboratory tests but less so against other species prevalent in natural settings.

Fungi’s Ability to Evolve and Adapt

Another significant limitation of accelerated tests is their inability to account for the evolutionary adaptability of fungi. In real-world environments, fungi continuously evolve, developing resistance to wood preservatives over time. This evolutionary process, influenced by genetic variations and environmental pressures, enables fungi to adapt and survive in changing conditions. Studies have shown that fungal species can undergo genetic and phenotypic changes that enhance their ability to degrade wood, even in the presence of preservatives. This dynamic evolutionary process is difficult to replicate in the static conditions of accelerated tests, leading to potential underestimations of fungal resistance and preservative longevity.

Need for Long-Term Field Studies

Pole test site

Given these limitations, it’s clear that while accelerated tests can provide useful initial data, they should be complemented with long-term field studies in the region or climate of proposed use. Such field studies are crucial for understanding how wood preservatives perform over extended periods under actual environmental conditions.

Field studies can capture the full range of interactions and changes that occur in natural settings, providing a more accurate assessment of wood preservative efficacy and longevity. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, while accelerated tests are a valuable tool in the early stages of wood preservative evaluation, their inability to fully replicate natural weathering and chemical leaching processes limits their predictive power. To ensure reliable and comprehensive assessments, these tests must be supplemented with long-term field research that considers the myriad factors influencing wood preservation in real-world environments. This comprehensive approach ensures a more accurate evaluation of wood preservatives, considering the evolution of fungi and their impact on long-term wood preservative performance.

Polesaver is a leading manufacturer of wood pole life extension products and works with utilities globally. Get in touch for more information on wood testing. 

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