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Splinters to Structures: Identifying new domestic and export markets for lower quality logs

A trio of key Australian forestry industry bodies are undertaking collaborative research that will support new market opportunities for Engineered Wood Products (EWPs) using lower-quality Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) and Pinus radiata (radiata pine) logs.

This important value-add project, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), is being led by the Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub (GTFIH), with support from Forest & Wood Products Australia (FWPA) and the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA).

The origins of the initiative can be traced back to November 2021 when demand for this low-value resource from major importer China ceased. With little-to-no existing domestic demand for timber products manufactured using these logs, timber began accumulating in Australian plantations. New markets are needed to prevent this resource going unused.

In response, the three collaborating bodies developed a grant application to the DAFF-led Agriculture, Trade and Market Access Cooperation (ATMAC). ATMAC agreed to provide funding for an extensive program of research, which has progressed positively during the past two and a half years.

A specially assembled team is studying relevant end-use market specifications, conducting in-depth market research, and undertaking manufacturing and development trials of EWPs with potential appeal to new export and domestic markets. The ultimate objective is to create additional market opportunities and fresh income streams for industry.

FWPA sees this project as a highly significant initiative and we are committed to offering ongoing support to the Hub as the research is conducted,” FWPA CEO Andrew Leighton said.

This work is a wonderful example of three organisations with a shared commitment to creating a sustainable future for Australian forestry coming together to create new opportunities to help secure our industry’s ongoing success.

The technical aspects of the research are being conducted at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF) Salisbury Research Facility in Brisbane, under the direction of Principal Scientist Dr Benoit Gilbert.

The market research elements are being led by Tim Woods of IndustryEdge, a consultancy that provides data analysis, intelligence and advice to the forestry industry.

“The market scopes and assessments conducted by IndustryEdge provided the research team with crucial information relating to the total scale of EWPs in the Australian economy by volume and value, segmented by sector and utilisation,” Woods said.

“This analysis helped the team to identify laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and glue laminated timber (GLT) as the preferred options for technical and market assessment.”

A total of 120 blue gum and 60 radiata pine logs were harvested from the Green Triangle and processed at the QDAF Salisbury Research Facility.

“Two-thirds of these logs were rotary peeled for use in LVL manufacturing, and the remaining third were sawn into boards to produce GLT,” Gilbert said.

“Promisingly, recovery rates calculated throughout each of these processes were found to be consistent with rates found elsewhere in the industry.”

During its LVL research, the team measured key characteristics of the peeled veneers, including Modulus of Elasticity (MOE), the measurement industry uses to quantify the ability of timber to resist elastic deformation when stress is applied. Encouragingly, high MOE measurements were observed in veneers recovered from blue gum, offering a potentially attractive attribute for buyers in markets where strength is the key requirement of LVL.

After applying the industry grading system to predict the visual quality of EWPs manufactured from veneers, the researchers found veneers recovered from both log types to be D Grade – the lowest grade on the scale. This knowledge has allowed the team to focus on manufacturing LVL products intended for use in markets where aesthetic appeal is not a vital consideration for the end user, such as internal structural applications.

Alongside the results of the technical work, the team used the findings of an export and domestic market study focused on LVL to identify five specific types they believe have the greatest potential for successful commercialisation. These products have already been manufactured and the next steps will involve testing to assess the products mechanical properties.

The team’s work on GLT has involved dressing and grading selected blue gum and radiata pine boards to assess their visual suitability for use in the manufacture of GLT products. They have now been tested for MOE, modulus of rupture (MOR) or ‘bend strength, as well as shear modulus (or modulus of rigidity) and density. This data is currently being collated to help determine the specific GLT prototypes for manufacture.

A GLT market assessment study is set to be conducted, with the findings used alongside the results of mechanical testing to determine the most appropriate GLT products to be manufactured. The suitability of these products for commercial use will be demonstrated through destructive testing at a commercial facility.

Another significant project deliverable is a detailed analysis of four key export markets for future trading opportunities: Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. The team has also identified that some of these markets may provide additional opportunities for intermediate products such as veneers and lamella.

We are extremely pleased with the progress our dedicated team of scientists and researchers have made since the commencement on this project,” Scott Whicker, ATMAC Project Coordinator at the GTFIH said.

“Everyone involved should be commended for their commitment to generating outcomes that will have meaningful, tangible benefits for the forestry industry in Australia and the Green Triangle, through the creation of ingenious fresh opportunities for application to a large Australian timber resource that might otherwise have remained underutilised.”

Former GTFIH Executive General Manager Liz McKinnon, who now manages external affairs for the Green Triangle’s hardwood plantation sector, said important steps are being taken towards commercialising the project outcomes.

Industry has actively promoted this innovative work to the Victorian State Government in a bid to attract funding to support a feasibility study into the creation of a new manufacturing hub in the Green Triangle’s Glenelg Shire, located close to the resource base and export channels,” McKinnon said.

This important next phase will illustrate how this project will not only diversify our market base but will also drive regional economic growth, generate long-term sustainable jobs, and build a comprehensive domestic-focused evidence base to support new plantation investment.

The researchers are on track to complete all scheduled activities by 30 June 2025, with key findings, progress and milestones continuing to be communicated to industry throughout the project.

About the Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub

The Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub (GTFIH) is a collaboration representing a cross section of the industry, created to grow a vibrant industry, sustainable for the future. The Hub’s membership base represents a large cross section of the full forest products value chain in south-east South Australia and south-west Victoria.

About the Australian Forest Products Association

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) is the peak national industry body representing the full forest products value chain. It has a membership base that accounts for more than 95% of the forest and wood products industry in the Green Triangle.

Posted Date: July 8, 2024

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