HOT NEWS BYTES: Innovations and inventions for next level forestry

May 30, 2024
Enpower CEO James Beatty and Sappi SA CEO Alex Thiel celebrate the solar energy deal that will reduce Sappi’s carbon footprint in South Africa.

Sappi Southern Africa has concluded a milestone 175GWh per annum renewable energy Power Purchase Agreement with Enpower Trading, a NERSA-licensed private electricity trading company, in a move to reduce its carbon footprint.

Sappi’s decision to partner with Enpower Trading aligns with its broader sustainability goals and is a significant move towards attaining its Science Based Target objectives. By implementing this renewable energy solution at its multiple South African operations, it is expected that Sappi SA and Sappi Limited’s Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions will be reduced by 6% and 4% respectively.

The power supplied to Sappi will be sourced from SolarAfrica Energy’s 1GW Sun Central PV project which is located southeast of De Aar in the Northern Cape.

Power will be supplied as from the end of December 2025. The agreement initiates a first-of-its-kind PPA in which Enpower Trading will supply Sappi with a utility-scale renewable power solution over a five-year period, paving the way for an evolving strategic partnership between Sappi and the trading company.

Trees extract air-borne micro-plastic
Japanese researchers have discovered that trees can extract microplastic particles that drift around in the air we breathe. Professor Miyazaki Akane of Japan Women’s University has found that microplastic particles drifting in the air adhere to the surface of leaves of konara oak trees in Tokyo. More research is needed to gauge the full potential of how trees can serve as terrestrial sinks for airborn microplastics, but it just goes to show that we should never under-estimate the benefits that forests have on our world.
Wooden wind turbine blades

German company Voodin Blade Technology has unveiled the world's first wooden wind turbine blades, which could revolutionise renewable energy technology. These innovative blades, made from sustainable laminated veneer lumber, signal a shift away from traditional fibreglass and carbon fibre blades that are notoriously difficult to recycle.

Voodin Blade Technology CEO Tom Siekmann says that most old turbine blades end up buried or burned. "That's 50 million tonnes of waste by 2050 if we don't act. Our wooden blades make green energy truly green," he said. (Source: Energy Source & Distribution)

Hot, hotter, hottest
February 2024 was apparently the hottest February ever recorded globally. The EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service showed that February 2024 was 1.77°C warmer than the pre-industrial average (1850 to 1900) for the month, and 0.81°C above the 1991-2020 average for February.

February temperatures in South Africa were also above normal in the central and eastern parts of the country, about 1°C above the 1991-2020 average and about 2°C above the 1981-2010 average.

Hot February 2024 was the culmination of the hottest 12 months ever recorded — between March 2023 and February 2024 the average temperature was 1.56°C above the pre-industrial average.

Even though the 1.5 degrees C average temperature has been exceeded for the past 12 month period and there is no denying that the climate on earth is getting hotter, it has to continue for 20 years to be regarded as permanent. Earth is expected to officially cross this 1.5 degrees C threshold by the early to mid-2030s. (Source: Daily Maverick)

Tracking logs
Researchers at Fraunhofer IPM are busy developing a camera-based system that makes it possible to reliably trace cut logs back to their source. It uses the unique structures on cut surfaces like a fingerprint, matched with a unique ID stored in a Cloud-based database. This allows the tamper-proof identification of individual logs and trunk sections, even if the timber is mixed up during harvest and processing. This system will provide a fool proof method of tracking timber from forest to sawmill to secondary processing facility, thus meeting EU timber regulations and certification supply chain requirements. (Source: / WoodTech)

Re-cycling CCA treated timber
Scientists at Scion are hard at work figuring out how to remove CCA from treated timber at the end of its life, separating it into individual elements which can then be recycled. This is essential for the realisation of a circular economy, as CCA treated timber that has reached the end of its useful life is an environmental hazard unless disposed of in specialist facilities. The elements removed from the timber could be reused in electronics or compound metals. (Source: Scion / Friday Offcuts)

Wood into batteries
New Zealand-based CarbonScape is converting woody biomass like woodchips and sawdust into biographite which is used to manufacture batteries. The R&D behind this innovation is supported by Stora Enso, a leading provider of renewable products in packaging, biomaterials and wood construction. (Source: RNZ/Friday Offcuts)

The ‘cockroach’ drone
Swiss researchers have developed a new drone, inspired by cockroaches, which can push away obstacles – like the leaves and branches of trees - and move past them while in flight. The drone will be used to measure biodiversity in remote areas, including beneath the canopy of forests. The problem the developers encountered was that the drones start vibrating when they brush past flexible branches and vegetation. They found a solution in the body structure of cockroaches, which is streamlined and consists of low-friction material, which gave the drones the ability to navigate inside the forest. The developers also equipped the drone with spatial intelligence throughout its body to help it navigate through dense vegetation. (Source:

The drone is streamlined and made up of low-friction material, like a cockroach. (Photo courtesy

Robotic micro-factories
ABB Robotics is collaborating with UK-based AUAR to develop robotic micro-factories to build affordable, low energy timber homes. A robot cuts the timber into components and assembles them into units that are transported to site, enabling complete customised homes to be built in a matter of weeks. (Source: ABB Robotics)

Helicopter powered saw
A specially designed tree-trimming saw powered by a helicopter has undertaken its first successful trial in New Zealand. The heli-saw, owned by Lakeview Helicopters in Taupō, was trialled by The Lines Company (TLC) in a forestry block in Kuratau.

In just over an hour the heli-saw successfully trimmed 950 metres of radiata pine along a corridor housing a 33kV network line. Trimmed material was left at the base of the trees, leaving two blocks of trees undamaged from the trimming operation.

Keeping trees clear of powerlines is a big challenge all over the world - including in South Africa - where they can pose a major fire risk. Trimming tall trees by hand is a slow and painstaking business – especially in steep terrain - and the trial showed that the heli-saw technology has great potential to boost productivity.

Trimming edge trees next to powerlines is preferable to felling them, which opens up forestry blocks to wind. (Source: The Lines Company)

The heli-saw is hitched to the helicopter in preparation for the trial. (Photo courtesy of The Lines Company)
The heli-saw in action in New Zealand. (Photo courtesy of The Lines Company)
Trees trimmed by the heli-saw to ensure the safety of the powerline. (Photo courtesy of The Lines Company)

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