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The Importance of Moisture for Brown Rot Degradation of Modified Wood: A Critical Discussion

Ringman, Rebecka, Beck, Greeley, Pilgård, Annica
Forests 2019 v.10 no.6
brown-rot fungi, cell walls, crosslinking, decay resistance, hemicellulose, metabolites, nanopores, surface tension, water content, wood degradation, wood moisture
The effect of wood modification on wood-water interactions in modified wood is poorly understood, even though water is a critical factor in fungal wood degradation. A previous review suggested that decay resistance in modified wood is caused by a reduced wood moisture content (MC) that inhibits the diffusion of oxidative fungal metabolites. It has been reported that a MC below 23%–25% will protect wood from decay, which correlates with the weight percent gain (WPG) level seen to inhibit decay in modified wood for several different kinds of wood modifications. In this review, the focus is on the role of water in brown rot decay of chemically and thermally modified wood. The study synthesizes recent advances in the inhibition of decay and the effects of wood modification on the MC and moisture relationships in modified wood. We discuss three potential mechanisms for diffusion inhibition in modified wood: (i) nanopore blocking; (ii) capillary condensation in nanopores; and (iii) plasticization of hemicelluloses. The nanopore blocking theory works well with cell wall bulking and crosslinking modifications, but it seems less applicable to thermal modification, which may increase nanoporosity. Preventing the formation of capillary water in nanopores also explains cell wall bulking modification well. However, the possibility of increased nanoporosity in thermally modified wood and increased wood-water surface tension for 1.3-dimethylol-4.5-dihydroxyethyleneurea (DMDHEU) modification complicate the interpretation of this theory for these modifications. Inhibition of hemicellulose plasticization fits well with diffusion prevention in acetylated, DMDHEU and thermally modified wood, but plasticity in furfurylated wood may be increased. We also point out that the different mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, and it may be the case that they all play some role to varying degrees for each modification. Furthermore, we highlight recent work which shows that brown rot fungi will eventually degrade modified wood materials, even at high treatment levels. The herein reviewed literature suggests that the modification itself may initially be degraded, followed by an increase in wood cell wall MC to a level where chemical transport is possible.