The future of fibre
Oct. 13, 2016 - As a way to learn more about the latest technologies and research underway to improve Canada’s forest industry, Canadian Forest Industries sat down with FPInnovations’ executive vice-president Dr. Trevor Stuthridge, to discuss the organization’s latest projects. In the first of a multi-part series of interviews with Trevor, we discussed some of FPInnovations’ current work related to Canada’s fibre supply.
By Andrew Snook
Q: What is FPInnovations currently working on to help ensure a sustainable fibre supply for the Canadian forestry sector?
Trevor: We spend 80 to 150 years growing a tree in Canada – some of the longest growth rates in the world. This is a significant national contribution to off-setting greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. So with all that investment in carbon stored in our forest, and all the added value potential in a tree, we need to recover the fibre at an optimum level.
In some areas, we leave an important fraction of material on the ground as residues. We’re doing work around understanding the value of that biomass, so we have researchers out there looking at biomass availability and how to optimize its recovery. Secondly, we’re doing work around pre-preparation of that material. The material contains a lot of water – which is expensive to transport out of the forest – or contains dirt and is not necessarily the high quality we want to use. So technologies where we can reduce the content of water and improve the cleanliness of the residues are important for maintaining the value of the residues. If the quality of the residue can be improved then the downstream use of the residue can be optimized economically.
One of our other challenges is that we have very diverse species and geographies in our forests – so we need to understand the resilience of the forests and the productivity gains possible for our future forests. We have an approach in Canada where the forest is allowed to regenerate to a degree at its own pace. That’s fine, but if we can understand the genetic potential of our trees and what they are capable of achieving under the right conditions, then we can improve our forest management techniques to get greater productivity or improve their security with respect to pests and fire. For example, if we could grow the forest slightly faster and the rotation period was reduced – and still not compromise wood quality – that would immediately create more value from our forests.
Q: Do your initiatives for extracting fibre in a more cost-effective manner include looking at new harvesting initiatives?
Absolutely. In 2014, we launched a new program called the Steep Slope Initiative, a five-year research and development plan aiming to identify and develop best practices and new harvesting technologies to provide the forest industry with safe, economic and sustainable solutions to access fibre located on steep slopes. We’re looking at new innovations, such as robotic harvesting systems and techniques that allow us to tether harvesters to get them up steep slopes more effectively.
Q: What kind of initiatives are you looking at for fibre transportation?
Transportation is one of the biggest costs of fibre supply, so we’re developing transportation initiatives to ensure cost of transportation is lowered, the carbon footprint is minimized, and we optimize load efficiencies and delivery.
For example, here in B.C., we’re looking at changing the axle configuration. By going to a nine-axle or ten-axle configuration we can carry more load per truck. We’d have lower emissions and better efficiencies of transportation, lowering the cost per unit. This is a very practical example.
At the other extreme we’re looking at things like automated vehicles so you can have trucks that can drive themselves, can drive slower, be more fuel efficient, and – potentially – operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week; so the number of loads can go up and the fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.
This approach may fit well with the forest industry. Many of our resource roads are relatively isolated – with fewer other vehicles present – and the roads are well-defined and mapped – so it may not be a ridiculous thing to have autonomous vehicles on some of these roads.
The broader concept across all of these ideas is what we call “the connected forest” – it’s about using data from across the value-chain to inform where everything is: Where are the trucks? What’s their fuel efficiency? Where is the next load coming from? What are the base logistics of the travel? Which log should go where? I think there are lots of benefits to be gained there in terms of sharing data, information and knowledge more effectively around what forest resources are needed, when and where.