Post Doctoral Researcher Mahsa Lotfi Marchoubeh in the FSRI lab

New Peer-Reviewed Journal Article Sheds Light on the Risky Byproducts Produced During the Pyrolysis of Common Wood-Based Construction Materials

February 14, 2024


The Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), part of UL Research Institutes, recently published an article in Fire and Materials on the pyrolysis byproducts of five common wood-based construction materials. These findings build upon our previous work examining the impact of wood-based training fuels on the fire environment and contribute significant findings to this under-researched area. 

Understanding the products generated when heating construction materials in the absence of oxygen is crucial for assessing potential health risks. In this study, a pyrolysis module was used to heat five wood-based materials commonly used in construction—low-density wood fiberboard, oriented strand board, pine, particle board, and plywood. As the materials pyrolyzed, the researchers used a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) instrument to separate, identify, and quantify the chemicals released. This study focused on specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often produced in this process that can pose health risks, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, styrene, and naphthalene.

Schematic of the experimental setup, showing the pyrolysis module coupled to a GC/MS instrument.

Oriented strand board and plywood produced the highest concentration of VOCs among the materials studied

The findings of this study demonstrated that various hazardous emissions are produced when pyrolyzing common wood-based construction materials. More specifically:

  • Oriented strand board and plywood produced the highest amounts of VOCs;
  • Solid pine generated the lowest amount of VOCs, followed by low-density wood fiberboard that is manufactured with wood fibers, starch, and wax; and
  • Plywood and particle board generated the largest variety in results.

“This investigation is essential for enhancing our understanding of potential health and safety risks during fires. By characterizing the emissions of hazardous organic compounds using advanced pyrolysis-GC/MS techniques, we aim to provide valuable insights that can contribute to safer building practices and improved fire safety measures.”
- Mahsa Lotfi Marchoubeh, Post-Doctoral Researcher, FSRI

Going forward, FSRI plans to conduct research on smoke samples to also analyze the hazardous materials produced when materials are burned in the presence of oxygen. Together, these findings will contribute to assessing potential health risks and improving safety guidelines that minimize respiratory and dermal exposure.

Read the peer-reviewed journal article.

This work was supported by the Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant #EMW-2019-FP-00770.

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