HOT NEWS BYTES: Innovations and inventions for next level forestry

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)

NCT field day provides foresters with valuable insights

NCT Forestry held a highly successful field day at their Enon forestry farm near Richmond in the KZN midlands recently. Foresters and tree farmers came from far and wide to attend the field day and pick up a few useful tips from the experienced NCT team, happy to blow away the cobwebs and engage with colleagues in the real world after months of COVID lockdown.

There were a number of interesting indoor presentations, field stops and equipment demonstrations, finishing off with a delicious braai around the Enon dam.

Prof Keith Little of Nelson Mandela University provided info on the trials he has been conducting in an effort to find a suitable replacement for Paraquat which has been used by foresters for decades to prepare tracer belts to facilitate the safer burning of fire breaks. Paraquat worked brilliantly but has been outlawed by FSC due to the risks associated with handling the chemical. The key thing that made Paraquat so effective was that it rapidly dessicates and kills the above ground vegetation, making it easier and safer to proceed with burning the firebreak in between the tracer belts – but it does not harm the below ground roots. Thus the grass on the tracer belts grows back readily in spring and protects the soil from subsequent erosion and invasion by weeds.

Keith presented some encouraging results that he has had in trials using pelargonic acid (PA) in varying conditions and sites. It seems that it is a good substitute for Paraquat but it is a bit more costly and must be applied at the correct rate and solution to be effective. In other words it is not as ‘bullet-proof’ as Paraquat.

Roger Poole of the Timber Industry Pesticide Working Group says the industry has applied for registration of pelargonic acid for use in South Africa, and hopefully it will be registered in time for the 2023 fire season. In the meantime many foresters are using brush cutters very effectively to prepare tracer belts.

Jacob Kotze of NCT Tree Farming provided info on the best performing tree species in terms of their return and impact on the bottom line. Salient points from his presentation were as follows:-

• Wattle gives the best net profit return on all NCT farms.
• The cost of wattle rust resistant clones is worth the investment due to reduced silvicultural costs and improved MAI.
• Green wattle (Acacia decurrens) is a viable alternative to E. dunnii on certain sites.
E. grandis clones give a good net profit on good sites if a pole market is an option.
E. smithii remains a good option on the right sites.
• Plantation insurance costs are considerably less for acacia species vs eucalypts.
• TU period is generally shorter for eucalypts than it is for wattle.

The team from Andermatt Madumbi then delivered their presentation on the importance of looking after soil health for good, sustainable yields. They have developed various biological-based products to improve soil and root health which inevitably results in improved vigour and growth of the plants – whether they be trees or agricultural crops. They have had a lot of success with improving crop yields after their soil treatments, and have recently been doing trials in tree nurseries with their root health programme. According to Andrew Keller the programme resulted in improved root health and growth of the cuttings. He said this would lead to improved survival, better pest and disease tolerance and the trees would be quicker to canopy.

Andrew said that there is increasing pressure on farmers all over the world to reduce chemical use in their fields due to declining soil health and productivity over successive rotations, hence the value of using quality biologicals to boost soil health.

He said that tree farmers need more fungi and less bacteria in the soil which will build up the carbon content and lead to healthier crops. At just 3% organic matter in the soil you get “massive growth improvement”, he said. As the fungi to bacteria ratio increases, so too the growth of the plant accelerates.

Tree improvement programme

After the indoor presentations we took a drive around Enon to view some of NCT’s tree improvement trials, from rust-tolerant wattle trees, black and green wattle hybrids and a raft of Eucalyptus hybrids that are producing ever improving results with better growth, improved pest and disease tolerance, wood quality and stem form.

For over 20 years a hybrid breeding consortium has been funding research and testing clones for independent timber growers in the forestry industry. Recently, NCT together with TWK and affiliated clonal nurseries - CPS Seedlings, Ezigro Seedlings, Sunshine Seedlings, Sutherland Seedlings and Top Crop - have formed a non-profit company known as the Hybrid Clone Consortium (HCC) to continue managing this programme.

Highlights of the programme include the development of GN 2107, one of the most widely and successfully grown GxN clones in the industry today; the development of GU 400 and 412 at the height of the L. invasa infestations to help growers combat this pest; and the release of the first South African black wattle clones to the market.

There are now well over 100 hybrid trials planted across a wide range of South African forestry sites which are contributing crucial info that is steadily building an understanding of which clones to plant on which sites for desired results.

At the same time nursery practises have evolved and clones are now produced through mini-cuttings, which form a tap-root like root system which more closely resembles the root architecture of a seedling. The introduction of paper pots over the past few years has also improved the quality of the root plug and ease of handling of clonal cuttings which are the future of forestry.

We were then treated to a demo of the use of drones to spray the tree canopy from above, the use of a highly effective blower to manage and extinguish a fire by the STIHL team; and various spray and planting rigs from Midlands Spraychem.

Thanks to the NCT team for organising a highly informative field day.

Drone-mounted tool for sampling tree canopies

A University of Sherbrooke research team specialising in aerial robotics has developed a self-powered, drone-mounted tool that is able to collect foliage samples from high up in tree canopies, according to a report from Friday Offcuts.

The DeLeaves canopy sampling tool is suspended beneath a drone, is equipped with an HD camera, and has two robotic arms to collect foliage samples from trees.

The tool was first used by a group of horticulturists to sample foliage from tropical forests in Vietnam.It has been deployed by the Canadian Airborne Biodiversity Observatory to study the spectral and functional trait differences within tree crowns; and has been used to sample Douglas Fir, Silver Firs, and Western Hemlocks by the National Ecological Observatory Network team.

Since then it has been used to collect samples of tree canopies in North America and Europe. It has further potential for crop sampling in agriculture. The DeLeaves canopy sampling tool will be showcased at the ForestTECH 2021 event being run in Rotorua, New Zealand in November.

Source: Friday Offcuts