European Forest Institute Annual Conference Oslo Norway

European Forest Institute 2017 Annual Conference

On 5th October, there was a special session entitled “Emerging forest-based solutions and their implications for forest management”, which was organized at European Forest Institute 2017 Annual Conference. The whole conference was held next to Holmenkollbakken – a large ski jumping hill located at Holmenkollen in Oslo. In this post, you can read some insights from this inspiring session that brough researchers and wood-industry people together. 

The session started from welcoming words from Hanne Maren Blåfjelldal (State Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Norway) and Knut Øistad (Chair of the EFI Board).


Generally, the program was split into three thematic sessions, panel discussion and concluding remarks. Now, I will describe few presentations that attracted me the most.

Session 1: Setting the scene

In this session, I liked a presentation of Dr Dirk Carrez, the Executive Director at Bio-based Industries Consortium. The Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) is a non-profit organisation set up in Brussels in 2012. BIC represents the private sector in a public-private partnership (PPP) with the EU, represented by the European Commission, known as the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU), established in June 2014 as one of the pillars of the European Commission Bioeconomy Strategy.

>>READ ALSO: Despite strong renewables policies, the EU is still highly dependent on imported fossil fuels!

Shortly speaking, the BBI JU is an instrument to support industrial research and innovation, to overcome the innovation ‘valley of death’, by bridging the gap from research to the marketplace. It encourages partnership with the private sector to fund and bring together the resources needed to address the challenges involved in commercialising major society-changing new technologies. In other words, the main mission of BIC is to build new bio-based value chains (develop new technologies, products, and applications, but also optimize feedstock use), and create a favorable business and policy climate to accelerate market acceptance.

Dr Carrez pointed in his presentation how important has the forest-based industry been in total turnover in the bioeconomy in the EU-28, in 2014. Out of 2.26 trillion Euro, around 1 trillion came from forest-based industry, followed by agriculture (less than half trillion Euro). Interestingly, this statistics translates also to the employment, as in 2014, 42% were employed in forest-based industry, followed by textiles and textile products (24%), or paper and paper products (17%). The biofuels and bioenergy contributed towards bio-based economy roughtly 1% and 3% respectively. Dr Carrez mentioned many different instruments, which can be accessed in EU, such as Horizon 2020 and BBI JU, European Structural and Investment Funds, or European Investment Bank for loans and guarantees. Nevertheless, the main message was that effects and effectiveness remain a critical issue in applying for these instruments of support, especially in very fragmented scene with different procedures, institutions or regions.

Within the same session, I liked also the presentation of Dr Inazio Martinez de Arano from Mediterranean Regional Office of the European Forest Institute. 

Dr Martinez de Arano discussed potential for innovative forest-based products in Southern Europe. He illustrated opportunities and challenges in Southern Europe regarding bioeconomy concept, and discussed forest management and forest policy implications. I like one of his slides during the presentation, which showed IASA study of the effects of globalization on the economic viability of EU forestry (see below).

Another interesting thing, that Dr Martinez de Arano mentioned, what was very cool to me, as I am a hunter as well, was the online system, which help to enhance the hunting in Castile and Leon (Spain). It consists of an advertising service to facilitate owners of hunting lands, included in the Regional Hunting Reserves, through the possibility of auctioning lots. Similarily, it facilitate hunters, to find them and be able to bid for game, guaranteeing the transparency of the process and ensuring security when signing a contract once the hunter win an auction. If you are a hunter, check this out, as it is very interesing website: RED DE RESERVAS REGIONALES DE CAZA DE CYL

Session 2: Building a biobased future: emerging technologies and forest-based solutions

In this session, I paid a careful attention to the presentation of Dr Johannes Welling, Director of the Institute of Wood Research at Thunen-Institut fur Holzforschung. Dr Welling gave a presentation about opportunities and challenges of hardwoods in the future bioeconomy.

First, Dr Welling started from the general background regarding growing stock and wood utilization. He mentioned, among others, that in the EU-28 growing stock available for wood supply in 2015 was ca. 23 billion m3 over bark, the net annual increment 0.72 billion m3 over bark, where roughly 33% is hardwood and 67% is softwood. In addition, he mentioned that present the situation, which vary considerably in EU countries, will change in coming future. For instance, it is expected that in Germany, France and other middle European countries, the hardwood share will increase due to changes in the forest composition. Based on above, it seems that hardwood may play a significant role in the future bioeconomy, doesn’t it?

>>READ ALSO: You will never guess where the Kingdom of Pulpwood is

Unfortunatelly, the future is not so bright as one might expect, as around 50-80% of all hardwoods are used for energy currently, and mainly high quality logs and assortments containing only one single hardwood species find their way into material use. What is the Europe vision for 2050? Dr Welling put a thesis that the vision for 2050 is that 80% of European hardwoods find their way into material utilization instead of being burnt after harvesting. Is it feasible? And here the best part came, why industry hesitate to use more hardwoods? Few arguments were very interesting to me as forest economist, such as:

  • softwood are straight and uniform
  • softwood are light weight, easy to dry and easy to handle
  • softwoods are available in large and uniform assortments
  • hardwoods comprise many different species with large property variations
  • most hardwoods are not straight and have thick knots and/or grain deviations
  • most hardwoods are not available in large uniform assortments

Dr Welling expressed his doubts about Europe’s vision for 2050 regarding hardwoods, pointing that: markets are too small for hardwoods, markets are already occupied by softwood products, hardwood properties are not appropriate, existing machinery is fit for softwood but not for hardwood, and here two very crucial in my opinion why the future based on hardwood is vague: 1) softwood products are probably better and cheaper, and 2) processing cost for hardwood when compared to softwood are too high.

Then, I asked him a following question: if there are significant difficulties to increase industry’s willingness to use more hardwoods in coming future, then why Germany changes its policy towards continous cover forestry, tries to increase the amount of hardwood species in German forests or limit the use of clear cutting in softwood stand etc. Isn’t it to risky to take this way?

Dr Welling responded that changes in Germany’s forests are mostly policy driven and presently the support of hardwood species is very high on the political agenda. Regarding the consequences, we will see probalby them in the future if Germany took good or bad way.

>>READ ALSO: The Return of the Forest: how trees reconquered the European continent after the last Ice Age

Nevertheless, Dr Welling presented what we can do to make the vision come true, and he pointed that we need:

  • identify and communicate advantages of hardwood materials compared to softwood
  • develop new forms of harvesting, sorting, and processing, especially for small and medium size low quality hardwood
  • provide glues and blinders specially designed for hardwoods
  • introduce innovative mass products specially designed for hardwoods at a competitive prize for large markets, e.g. building sector
  • create an image campaign for European hardwoods

Will these points lead us towards higher use of hardwoods in Europe? I do not think so. If wood industry folks will not see advantages related to price of hardwoods, cheaper processing costs, and their quality benefits over softwoods, then no campaign can succeed in promoting hardwoods, in my opinion, unless there will be a governmental intervention in terms of subsidies for hardwood producers.

>>READ MORE: ‘Green deserts’ or functional forests?

In the same session, there was also one very inspiring presentation given by Dr Kristin Syverud working at Fibre Research Institute, who presented how we can use nanocellulose for medical purposes. Nanocellulose is very promising as scaffold material because forms hydrogels with relatively high stiffness, its mechanical properties can be controlled, porous structure can be formed, is safe, its surface chemistry can be altered, and has excellent biological properties (biocompatibility, biodegradability and low toxicity).

Therefore, nanocellulose can be used for instance for:

  • tissue bioscaffolds for cellular culture,
  • antimicrobial nanomaterials, drug delivery,
  • skin, bone tissue or repair biomaterials
  • immobilization of enzyme/protein, or
  • blood vessels, soft tissue substitute biomaterials

It was very interesting presentation to me, as I have never heard about such application of wood-derivatives.

Session 3: Building a biobased future: emerging technologiesand forest-based solutions.

In this session, I enjoyed the presentation of Mr Rune Abrahamsen, a Director at Moelven Limtre AS, who discussed experiences and lessons learned from building multi-storey wood constructions, “Treet” in Bergen and “Mjøstårnet” in Brumundal. Moelven is one of Scandinavia’s largest wood-processing groups, which employs 3500 employees in 50 business units in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The turnover of Moelven is around 1 billion Euro, and they have tree divisions: Timber, Wood, and Building Systems. Moelven Limtre is part of Building Systems, and has two factories in Norway and one in Sweden. It produces about 25 000 m3 per year in Norway, and ca. 30 000 m3 per year in Sweden of Glued laminated timber, or called also glulam (Limtre in Norwegian). Glulam, is a type of structural engineered wood product comprising a number of layers of dimensioned lumber bonded together with durable, moisture-resistant structural adhesives.

>>READ MORE: Word’s tallest wood building has 53 metres

The biggest secret behind glulam is that by laminating a number of smaller pieces of lumber, a single large, strong, structural member is manufactured from smaller pieces. In such technologies, foresters do not need to grow their forests with long rotation periods, as smaller wood fragments can be always glued and can provide stronger and more durable wood structures.

I liked one of the slides of Mr Abrahamsen, which showed a race for building the highest multi-storey wood construction in entire worlds (see picture below).

He also pointed that there should be more clear definition which buildings can be classified as wooden, and which not, depending on the quantities of materials used (100% wood, or wood plus concrete or steal). Regarding the experiences and lessons learnt, Moelven Limtre AS found that glulam is well suited for high rise buildings, and even the large cross sections can handle the fire requirements. In addition, he stressed that cost structure of such buildings is higher with comparison with concrete ones, but on the other hand the assembly process is quick as everything is prefabricated. Last, he noticed that measurements prove that the buildings behave according to predicted calculations, and CO2 footprint is considerably lower than in non-wooden buildings.

Panel discussion and summary

The seminar ended with panel discussion about opportunities and challenges for forest management in the 21th century.

I enjoyed this scientific seminar a lot, as it was full of very good and informative presentations.

Now, I can only look for the next EFI Annual Meeting that will be held in Alghero, Sardinia on 26-28 September 2018.

Main photo: View from Holmenkollen on Oslo city. Author of the photo: Rafal Chudy

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