Canadian company supplies high-tech kiln for key American wood science study

Midland, Ontario -- RF Kiln Tech Limited is pleased to announce the sale of one of its radio-frequency vacuum kilns to the United States Department of Agriculture's animal and plant health inspection service.

The 1,200-board-foot kiln will be installed in December in the wood science department of world-renowned Penn State University. It will be used to help set commercial parameters for effective heat treatment against invasive forest pests like the Emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned pine beetle.

"This is a turning point in the fight against alien species that are invading North America through wood packaging," said Mark Hamelin, founder and president of RF Kiln Tech.
"To partner with such recognized institutions as the USDA and Penn State to help solve a major problem that threatens the health of our forests is both exciting and humbling."

According to Hamelin, RF Kiln Tech's use of radio frequency - or RF - puts it on the leading edge of international wood-drying technology.

Wood loaded into the chamber of any of the company's half-dozen kiln models is sandwiched between an anode and cathode plate. The wood is then subjected to a steady barrage of radio waves, creating an electro-magnetic field that polarizes the water molecules and creates heat energy in the wood.

"The RF drying process heats from the inside out, which causes the core of the wood to dry first," explained Hamelin. "This heating method is ideal for killing burrowing insects because the RF targets below the surface. It is fast, efficient and more complete than conventional kiln heat treating."

"This is a turning point in the fight against alien species that are invading North America through wood packaging"

Penn State is at the forefront of American research efforts to develop a heat treatment program for pallets, crates, and other solid wood packaging materials (known as SWPM) to help prevent alien and destructive plants, animals and pathogens from reaching our continent.

"Two well-known examples of the risks of failure to properly treat SWPM are the Asian long-horned beetle (ALB) and the emerald ash borer, which were likely introduced into the United States in pallets or crates shipped from China," Kelli Hoover, professor of entomology at Penn State and project director, said in a 2013 press release about the program:

"It's been reported that the estimated urban impact of ALB is the loss of 35 percent of total canopy cover and a value loss of $669 billion, while the emerald ash borer threatens to eliminate most ash species from North America."

Hoover said the two traditional treatment methods for SWPM - conventional heat treatment in kilns and methyl bromide fumigation - have proven ineffective. (The latter method is also a known carcinogen and greenhouse gas that is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.)

After more than a decade of research by Penn State, American government agencies, industry and international technical panels, the use of heating by both microwave and radio frequency has been approved as an alternative treatment for a wide range of target pests.

What remains is to establish perimeters for the most effective use of those heating systems. Enter RF Kiln Tech Limited. Founded in 2015 as a subsidiary of Aqua Timber, a Midland-based, world-class retriever, drier and hewer of old-growth lumber, the company first approached Penn State in early 2015.

The 1200 model, which retails for nearly $170,000, is the smallest of six kilns made by RF Kiln Tech at its manufacturing facility near the Georgian Bay port town of Midland, a 2-hour drive north of Toronto.

The company's largest kiln - RFKT Model 8000 - has an 8,000-board-foot volume capacity. But the company can produce even bigger kilns for custom orders. Hamelin said he hopes the Penn State project will lead to widespread use of RF-heat treatment of SWPMs. "It could help stop a major ecological and environmental problem," he said. "And it could create a huge new market for our products."

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