Since the 1950's research has been done on thermal modification of wood, based on heat
treatment of (fresh or conditioned) wood at relative high temperatures: 230-260°C. This
technology enables the upgrading of lower durability softwood and hardwood species like Scots Pine, Norway Spruce, Douglas Fir, Birch, and Poplar, into wood products of more consistent quality.
These products can be used for a broader range of applications such as garden fences and
channel linings or even cladding, decking and exterior joinery. The main effect gained by heat
treatment of wood is reduced hygroscopicity (increased stability). The main advantages of wood treated in this manner are increased resistance to different types of biodegradation and improved dimensional stability, without the use of (toxic) chemicals.
However, some undesired side effects, in particular loss of strength and increased brittleness were in the beginning the main objections for overall commercial utilisation of heat-treated timber. Development of suitable thermal modification techniques therefore focussed on optimisation of the process for a maximum increase of the dimensional stability and durability, while minimising the decrease of the strength.
The Plato technology is an innovative heat treatment method, developed in the Netherlands.
This technology embodies an effective two-stage treatment under relatively mild conditions
(<200°C). Originally this two-stage heat treatment is based on findings of H. Ruyter (1989) who started the development of this process in the Royal Dutch Shell Laboratorium Amsterdam (KSLA). As a result of the oil crisis in the 1970's and an increasing concern about global warming, there was a worldwide interest in fuels and chemicals from renewable sources.
In the KSLA laboratory of Shell, heat treatment processes at very high temperatures and pressures were developed in order to obtain fuels and chemicals from organic material. As a spin-off of this research a new process concept for the upgrading of wood was invented (Ruyter 1989), based on an adaptation of the process conditions. Developments in the 1990's, such as reduced oil prices and an increased industrial competition on a shrinking world market, forced companies back to their core business, and have led to the decision not to implement this project in Shell. In 1994 an independent research group was established in Wageningen (The Netherlands) to continue the development of this two-stage heat treatment method and to optimise the process conditions in order to develop an industrially applicable process and product.
In the late 90’s a pilot scale process was developed which resulted in the realisation of an industrial plant in 2000. Since 2001 Plato®WOOD has been commercially produced for a variety of applications, e.g. waterworks, garden wood and the building industry.