Palm wood is a newer product on the market. There are approximately 150 palm species. The palm wood commercially available is considered renewable because it comes from coconut trees that have finished bearing coconuts. Palm wood comes from plantations where the trees have grown for centuries, and no new space is allocated for trees. This feature makes it greener than bamboo, and meets Forest Stewardship Council approval. Palm wood can be produced formaldehyde-free. It is usually medium to dark red mahogany in color and shows a small dark speckle. Sardar (2009) described it as “flecks of thread floating in resin, [which] gives coconut palm wood a beautiful quality seen more often in more expensive endangered hardwoods.”
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Palm wood boards that are untreated have a tendency to twist. Drying in natural air results in less strength and color for the palm wood. Therefore, it is dried in a kiln and sliced before being laminated to a core material. The cell structure is most dense at the perimeter of the tree, causing the outside to be harder and darker, and the center to be softer and lighter. This is the opposite of most trees. The coconut palm tree grows only to 12 inches in diameter, but may be 100 feet tall.
Palm wood is not available in large planks. The lengths range between 2 feet and 6 feet. When it needs to be longer, pieces are spliced together. It is produced for flooring, paneling, and as a veneer over a core material. Flooring is available in 5/8-inch tongue and groove. The palm veneer is 3/6 inch thick, which allows it to be sanded and refinished. Paneling is available in thicknesses ranging from % inch to 3 inches thick. The downside of palm wood is the cost. Coconut trees decay from ants as they age, making the raw material less available than bamboo.
Wood has a fairly low level of embodied energy relative to many other materials used in construction, such as metal or plastic. The energy needed to produce wood is low because the sun and rain provide most of the growing needs. Some forest operations use fertilizer and pesticides, which add some production cost. Energy is used for powering harvesting equipment and transporting logs to the lumber mill where the logs are sawn and dried. Kiln drying is the most energy-consumptive process of lumber manufacture; however, bioenergy from a mill’s waste wood is often used to heat the kilns. Bioenergy for fuel is considered to be carbon neutral.
Solid wood has a level of embodied energy at 10.4 MJ/kg. Plywood, which requires more processing steps and the addition of glue, has an embodied energy of 15 MJ/kg. The more processing involved in the manufacture of wood products, such as flaking, veneer cutting, added heat for pressing, gluing, and kiln drying, the more impact it has on energy use, solid water production, pollution production, and carbon release into the atmosphere.