Using Physical Barriers to Prevent In-Ground Wooden Pole Decay: Protecting Forest and Economic Resources as well as Soil and Groundwater

By Alan R. Howgrave-Graham, Laurie J. Cookson and Andrew Percy.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Wooden poles and posts have been used for decades as the cheapest and most convenient way to carry electricity, telephone lines, build fences and vineyard trellises. However, a multitude of soil organisms can decay wood, requiring regular replacement of decayed poles and posts. Preservatives such as creosote or CCA are currently used to impregnate timber and extend its in-soil life but these may be environmentally detrimental as leaching can contaminate soil and groundwater. A preserved wooden utility pole should last 25 years in soil before replacement with a concrete, steel or another preserved wooden pole. A physical barrier, a field liner (FL), has been used to encase the base of posts to retain preservative while preventing timber and soil contact. This paper reports on a 26 month accelerated field trial (equivalent to 5.42 years under normal conditions) testing FL’s fitted to lightly preserved (ACQ) and unpreserved posts in Australia. The field liners were calculated to be successful at extending the in-ground life of untreated posts 3.6 fold. Nearly all the sapwood of untreated posts without FL’s had rotted within 26 months, while the sapwood of lightly preserved posts without FL’s are expected to last 35 months in the trial (equivalent to 7.3 years in the field). No decay was found after 26 months with the lightly preserved posts with FL’s. These barriers were thus shown to confer considerable protection on wooden posts (whether preserved or unpreserved) from woodrot fungi in soil. This paper explains (with some quantitative data and modelling as evidence) the significance of this finding in terms of: reduced demand on timber supplies in Australia (in terms of both plantation and old-growth forests); cost saving to the utility companies; and the impact that using FL’s would have on protecting soil and groundwater from preservative leaching.

Keywords: Field Liners, Fungal Decay, Timber Preservation

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.305-316. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.163MB).

Dr. Alan R. Howgrave-Graham

Lecturer, School of Applied Sciences and Engineering, Monash University, Churchill, Victoria, Australia

Alan Howgrave-Graham spent four years working in hydrological research then pollution control in the Department of Water Affairs in South Africa, before spending twelve years teaching microbiology and doing environmental biotechnology research, mostly at the University of Natal where he completed his PhD. He migrated to Australia in 1999 and started a Doctorate in Business Administration specializing in commercialization of University intellectual property. In 2001 he worked at Curtin University at the Centre of Excellence in Cleaner Production before taking up his current position as microbiology lecturer at Monash University. He has published 17 scientific journal articles on anaerobic and aerobic treatment of wastewaters and the detection of protozoan pathogens in water. More recently he published a book chapter on the implications on biotechnology strategies of the Australian system of cooperative research centres and industrial clusters, as well as a journal article on opportunities for cleaner production in West Australian SME’s. His research interests are in all the above topics as well as in methods for teaching to large classes and in multicultural settings.

Dr. Laurie J. Cookson

Group Leader, Materials Science & Engineering, CSIRO, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Laurie Cookson has been involved in wood preservation research with CSIRO for 29 years, and published over one hundred articles on wood preservative performance, fungal and marine borer control, termite biology, and timber treatability. He obtained his PhD from Monash University studying marine borer taxonomy and control. He is currently Group Leader of Bioproduct Assessment at CSIRO, and Chair of Section 1, Biology, with the International Research Group on Wood Protection.

Dr. Andrew Percy

Assistant lecturer, School of Applied Science and Engineering, Monash University, Churchill, Victoria, Australia

Andrew received a PhD from the University of New England, Australia, in algebraic topology in 2004. He lectures mathematics and statistics at Monash University, Australia. Whilst working on integral cohomology operations and their relations he has also been applying mathematical and statistical techniques to other areas of science and engineering. Amongst the collaborative papers he worked on are: Andrew Percy and Brian Kinghorn, “A genotype probability index for multiple alleles and haplotypes”. J. Anim. Breed. Genet., 122, pp 387 - 392, 2005. Ian Spark, Yousef Imbrahim and Andrew Percy, “Manouverable gantry tractor comprising a chorus line of synchronised modules” submitted to Transactions of the IEEE.


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