The future of wood
The New Zealand forestry industry is primed for a boom.
evergreen forests of Pinus radiata onNewZealand’s landscapes stand as an undeniable testament to sustainable industry.
Not only that, forestry is also of significant benefit to the national economy, contributing a gross annual incomeof $5 billion, whichamounts to 3 percent of NewZealand’sGDP.
Woodproductsare the country’s third largest export earner, beaten to the top only by the giants of dairy andmeat.
Most importantly, global demandforwood resources is set to increase markedly in sync with population.
This means forestry is set to becomeastronger player still, andNewZealand’s industry has the potential to be just as relevant in the 21st century as it was at its peak in the 1980s – or indeed more so.
Continuing developments in technology and finished wood products mean forestry can remain a sustainable sector, whilst also being increasingly profitable on the international market.
TimCharleson, environment manager at RedStag Timber, says most sawmills in NewZealand are nowsustainably utilising their woodwaste to fire boilers, producing steamand drying the saleable woodasneeded.
“It’s just pure economics,” says Charleson. “I don’t see how they could stay in business without utilising woodwaste to produce heat. To burn fossil fuels is becomingmoreexpensive now. If youdon’t burn this woodwaste you can haveamajor disposal issue.”
But headds that RedStag Timber is going a step further with their woodwaste. "Whatweare doing over and above everyone else in the sawmilling industry is that we’re also producing electricity from that steam. The investment was madeway back in the ‘80s to put in co-generation when the mill was state-owned."
Marlborough-based CarbonScape is pursuing the ambitious goal of further developing technology, which it hopes could one day reduce global carbon emissions byasignificant amount.
The companyhas already invented ‘green coke’ – a substance producedby putting woodwaste through a microwaving process, turning it into a form of refined carbon which can be used in steelmaking.
Normally, coal is used to yield refined carbon, so green coke is a muchmore sustainable choice.
It has beenusedbyNewZealand Steel, which is so impressed with GreenCoke’s contributions to emissions reduction that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CarbonScape, pledging to give technical support with the first green coke production facility which will be built near the NewZealand Steel mill at Glenbrook, south of Auckland. At the time of going to press, Carbonscapehad achieved its funding target on the crowdsourcing website Snowball effect.
Executive director of CarbonScape, TimLangley, says the real potential technological impact on forestry long-term lies in a product knownasbiochar.
“It’s basically the same product as green coke, but used as a soil amendment, and it has all of those activated carbon aspects of being able to retain moisture really, really well. It also acts as a sort of microbial reef in the ground.”
Hesays there’s work being doneonbiochar all over the world, and its impact on forestry globally as a sector is likely to bevery large.
“The commercialisation plan is to make those products here in NewZealand, and then export them. Our dreamis that they’ll be using our technology in China, and using their own forestry over there.”
TTTProductsare based in Tuakau. They receive rawlogs from sustainable forests, before manufacturing and crafting theminto poles with a range of modifications for usage in a variety of applications, including for foundations, houses, multi-storey buildings, bridges, telegraph poles, and even marine conditions.
One of their versatile woodenpole designs features a unique hollow core. “That hole in the pole opens up markets that you just couldn’t do before – they just didn’t exist,” says owner andCEOof TTT, John Reelick. “Your product moves, it twists, it doesafew other things, but putting that hole in it takes all that out, and hencewhywecan go into markets that we just haven’t beenable to go in before. Nobody does this on a commercial scale anywhere in the world. The potential is more than huge; it’s numbingly big.”