Built-in colour could be the next big export and interior decor thing for New Zealand radiata pine as scientists eye markets for their technology breakthrough.

Crown research institute Scion has developed "full thickness" colour technology which fixes non-leaching dyes in the sustainably-grown timber, offering an alternative to painting and staining.

Scion wood and fibre science leader Doug Gaunt said the breakthrough is that the technology colours every fibre in a piece of timber, whereas attempts by others have produced patchy, inconsistent results.

Not only can we put away the paintbrush, but built-in colour means if the wood gets scratched or dented the colour isn't lost.

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"But the big one is if you machine the timber, the colour is still there. It offers flexibility," said Gaunt.

The new technology also ticks the sustainability box.

"At the moment a lot of countries import tropical hardwoods which are not from a sustainable source because they really like a colour - rosewood for example. If we could do a rosewood colour and at a cheaper price we are not cutting down tropical forests."

Built-in colour is also a plus for child toy safety as there's no paint to chew or chip off.

Rotorua-based Scion believes its technology is unique, and when coupled with other improvements such as wood hardening, opens a new value-adding opportunity for New Zealand's soft pine-based wood product industry.

Around 90 per cent of New Zealand's 1.7 million hectares of plantation forestry is pinus radiata. Forestry exports earned about $5.6 billion this year. Downstream forestry activity (non-log) contributed more than $2b to New Zealand GDP last year.

Gaunt said more research still has to be done, and the technology needs to be commercialised, perhaps through an IP sale or partnership.

How soon the product is available in New Zealand will depend on commercial interest, but Gaunt thinks 18 months to two years is a safe estimate. But Scion's eye is firmly on the export possibilities.

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"Primarily our goal is to generate benefit for New Zealand (economy). But if a New Zealand commercialisation partner picked it up that would be a great outcome for us."

Gaunt said the colour project began as a result of interest from Asia for brightly-coloured wood.

"The big scientific challenge has been to make it (the colour) consistent. Wood varies, no two pieces are the same."

Gaunt said coloured veneer or very thin sliced wood, is available, but Scion's technology is a first for big timber pieces and uniformity of colour.