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)

FSA secures R18 m funding for forest protection

A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) concluded between Forestry South Africa and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is set to boost industry’s efforts to counter the impact of pests and diseases on the country’s timber resources with the injection of R18 million funding over two years.

“While long overdue, this partnership with DFFE will add greatly to our efforts to protect our timber resources against pests and diseases, conduct desperately needed research and development, build our human capacity in this crucial area and encourage ongoing investment by our sector,” commented FSA’s Research and Forest Protection Director, Ronald Heath.

The MoA focuses on five main outcomes:-

• Monitoring activities
• Awareness programmes
• Provision of diagnostic services to the forestry industry
• Conducting research on aspects of pests and diseases.

The MoA will be managed on behalf of the Industry by Ronald Heath with oversight provided by the National Pests and Diseases Steering Committee which includes representatives from DFFE, FSA, the National Forest Research Forum and the Tree Protection Cooperative.

After five years of continuous and active engagement with the DFFE, the process was concluded in the short space of one month thanks to the efforts of Mohammed Bhabha of the PPGI, Sabelo Malaza from the Masterplan Programme Management Office in DFFE and Director-General Tshabala, said Ronald.

The importance of securing this funding support from DFFE is underlined by the increasing impacts of pests and diseases on forestry in South Africa and around the world.

It is estimated that over the past 30 years the forestry industry has been losing the equivalent of 11.5% of its harvest to pests and diseases every year. When using current value estimates of 50% of the average value of the timber, the losses amount to R392 million of roundwood annually. This translates into an opportunity cost of R2,05 billion in additional downstream processing that is lost.

The losses outlined above - which exclude losses due to fire - have arisen from just a handful of pests and diseases. Now, with the rate of new pests and diseases landing on our shores increasing rapidly on the back of expanding global trade, the losses incurred from pest and disease damage are expected to increase dramatically in future.

Vergelegen estate tests enviro-friendly gum poles

Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West is testing the use of untreated, environment friendly poles in its vineyards.

The untreated poles have been installed in two blocks of vineyards, extending over 3,55ha. These are planted with sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes, says Vergelegen viticulturist Rudolf Kriel. The remaining four blocks, planted in 2020, have steel poles in one block, and normal treated pine poles in the remainder.

Green Cape Timbers, which is based at neighbouring Lourensford wine farm, manufactured and supplied the environmentally-friendly poles.

Green Cape Timbers owner Sean McGaffin says he became interested in environmentally-friendly timbers while exporting wood to the Netherlands. Dutch authorities fit wooden panels to the sides of canals and dykes, and this wood must be correctly certified as they do not allow treated timbers in their waterways.

The poles installed at Vergelegen are sourced from sugar gum, the traditional farm gum tree (E. cladocalyx) and tuart (E. gomphocephala). These eucalyptus species are commonly found on Western Cape farms as they are well-adapted, all-purpose trees. They also appeal to bee-keepers as they provide a reliable source of pollen and sugar-rich nectar.

The poles are produced by felling the trees and, keeping the bark on, leaving them to release moisture slowly. The exterior sap-containing wood is then peeled off, and the eucalyptus is cross-cut to the required length.

McGaffin says the benefits of untreated eucalyptus poles include:
• Enviro-friendly manufacture: The poles are not treated with wood preservatives, which require quantities of water and chemicals to produce.
• Chemical-free: The untreated poles are free of chemicals that could leach into the soil. Poles used outdoors are usually impregnated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) or creosote. CCA is a wood preservative containing chromium, copper and arsenic compounds. Creosote is distilled from various tars and the pyrolysis (decomposition due to high temperatures) of plant-derived materials such as wood and fossil fuel.
• Cheaper costs: Due to strength capabilities, the cost of the untreated eucalyptus poles can be considerably cheaper than treated poles sourced from commercial retail outlets.
• Community responsibility: Many treated, discarded poles are used as wood fuel for cooking in under-resourced communities. This has health concerns given that they contain heavy metals and arsenic.

“There is a general perception amongst South Africans that all eucalypt tree species in the country are aggressive, alien invasives,” says McGaffin. “This perception has been further fuelled by drought concerns and the blanket understanding that ‘gum trees’ use extensive amounts of underground water resources. In fact this is not the case as they use no more than another tree per biomass size.”

There are over 180 Eucalyptus species in South Africa, which means there are large variations in the levels of invasiveness, durability and strength, he says.

Stellenbosch University research has shown that some Eucalyptus trees have four to five times the strength of treated pine poles, adds McGaffin. Thus costs could be lowered by manufacturing thinner Eucalyptus poles. Given that the poles are heavy, they could be supplied with holes already drilled for nails, while tapering them at the tips would enable easier planting. The peeled bark could also be sold as mulch.

“Vergelegen is dedicated to sustainability and has collaborated with research institutions and specialist suppliers of environmental products and services over several decades,” commented Leslie Naidoo, Vergelegen’s Commercial and Risk Manager. “We will monitor the condition of the untreated poles and any impact on the vineyards, and look forward to sharing the findings in due course.”

Vergelegen has consistently been recognised for its environmental initiatives. The estate was crowned the first Biodiversity and Wine Initiative Champion in 2005, and completed South Africa’s largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing project in 2018. This programme restored 2 200 hectares of vegetation on the 321-year-old estate, while supporting job creation and skills development in local communities.

Vergelegen also received the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa 2019 corporate award in 2019, recognising its sustained commitment to environmental initiatives. The estate won two awards in the 2022 Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism Awards, for its sustainable wine tourism experiences, land also landscape and architecture.

Benefits of eucalypts
Timber intended for outdoor use is usually treated to protect it from microbes and insects. Thick sap wood, which does not have natural good durability and strength properties, is chosen because it allows the required chemical penetration. Traditionally in South Africa, Eucalyptus grown for pole material has also been treated with CCA or creosote which requires a thick sap wood in order to get the required chemical penetration. In fact, the chemical treatment of many Eucalyptus species is unnecessary because of their natural durability. This has prejudiced species such as E. cloeziana that has thinner sap wood and better durability.

A recent study by Wessels et al (2016) into the viability of fast-growing tree species in the dry West Coast region of the Cape identified the four most promising genotypes by volume growth as E. grandis, E. camaldulensis, E. gomphocephala and E. cladocalyx. Source:

Green Cape Timbers, which forms part of a consortium known as Green Cape Forestry, is investigating the potential of not only supplying untreated gum poles, but also offering a turnkey service to plant and manage Eucalyptus forests on behalf of landowners.

Eucalyptus trees play an important role in the agricultural sector. The trees bloom in different seasons and are important source of nectar and pollen for bees. Bees are essential for pollination of the Western Cape's fruit industry. Currently, the bee population is suppressed by insecticides and is attacked by pests and diseases. According to SANBI (South African Biodiversity Institute), the value of insect pollination is more than R10.3 billion per year in South Africa.

The fruit industry in the Western Cape needs poles for orchards to ensure optimum production per hectare. It is estimated that 100,000m3 of poles are treated per year in the Western Cape, of which about 60% is destined for the fruit industry. The expected durability of a pole in the industry is about 25 years i.e., a durability Class 1 product. To date, chemically treated poles have been used to create this lifetime expectation. Several Eucalyptus trees have a natural durability by removing the sapwood. Eucalyptus cladocalyx is one such species.

Exotic trees were first planted because indigenous forests were insufficient for timber supplies and there was a risk that indigenous forests would be over-exploited. The first eucalyptus species planted widely in South Africa was the E. globulus, the “blue gum”. It came via an Indian Ocean network, from Australia to Mauritius to the Cape Colony, probably in 1828. Unfortunately the plantings were not managed, and an environmental management problem began to occur. Green Cape Forestry Consortium’s objective is to motivate new plantings that are managed and meet responsible forestry standards. This would help remove unwanted Eucalyptus stands and improve the Western Cape's biodiversity status.

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