The fu­ture of wood

The New Zealand forestry in­dus­try is primed for a boom.

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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.”

Mul­tipole: TTT Prod­ucts’ ‘hole in the pole’ is open­ing up a myr­iad of uses and po­ten­tial mar­kets.

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