Balsa Wood

The balsa tree

Balsa tree is the fastest growing tree in the world. It can grow from a tiny seedling to an adult 90 feet high plant in about 5-7 years. The tree grows straight and tall, with a trunk of about 50 cm in diameter, and is topped by a lush crown of very large leaves. Each balsa tree produces hundreds thousands of seeds. They are carefully culled, and only the fittest are germinated in nurseries and planted on the farms. The other ingredients of rapid healthy growth are contributed by nature: rich Ecuadorian soil, rainfall that averages 90 inches per year and hot tropical sunlight.

Excellent properties for Bcomp technologies

Balsa lumber is very soft and light, with a coarse, open grain. The density of dry balsa wood ranges from 40-340 kg/m³ with a typical density of about 160 kg/m³. Lightweight of the wood derives from the fact that the tree has large cells that contain water. After the water is driven off in an extended drying process (kiln dried for two weeks), the large surface area of the resulting cell wall structure made from cellulose/lignin, provides the lightweight wood with exceptional strength.

An environmentally friendly resource

In comparison to the paulownia wood, poplar or bamboo, balsa has significantly smaller environmental impact due to its low density. Taking in account water usage, CO2 footprint and embodied energy, balsa wood has approximately 40% lower environmental impact than paulownia.

Another aspect, which contributes to its sustainability, is the certification of our balsa wood with FSC-criteria. The balsa plantation in Ecuador takes care of indigenous people’ rights and maintains landscape, resources and biodiversity.

Success of bCores® technology

So far, large quantities of balsa were only available in end grain configuration (fibre direction perpendicular to the plane), resulting in exceptional compression properties. While the material is widely used in the construction of windmill blades, it appeared to be of little use to the winter sports industry. Due to its high brittleness balsa is very difficult to machine, and its shear properties are too low for the use in ski and snowboard cores. 

To address these issues, Bcomp has partnered with 3A Composites - the owner of the largest balsa plantations worldwide. Bcomp core technology was combined with another major innovation - BANOVA® - a balsa product novelty developed by 3A Composites offering a wide variety of veneer material configurations, based on FSC certified balsa. The marriage of the two technologies resulted in Bcomp’s bCores® D200 product line. 

In this case flax shear web provides the required shear strength, stiffness, toughness, and durability of the product. The right amount of end grain balsa layers provides the core with required compression strength both during processing and use. Flat grain balsa layers also guarantee smooth machining process. Finally carefully selected glue increases the toughness of the material, radically changing the intrinsic brittle behavior of the balsa wood.