Friday Offcuts – 26 April 2024

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Welcome to this week's edition of Friday Offcuts.

We open today with comments from industry veteran, Rob de Fégely, who is calling out the inflammatory language and claims made recently against the forestry sector. He underscores the important balance needed between conservation, meeting the demands of a growing population and a more sustainable future. 

In NZ, changes to the Accredited Employer Worker Visa is raising concerns about potential staff shortages that will hinder the forestry sector. Weakened China markets will also pose industry challenges, with forestry leaders urged to collaborate and adjust production levels.

In other news, Perth will be home to the world’s tallest timber building, the TWU is holding up self- driving truck road tests in Melbourne, Callaghan Innovation has technology funding for manufacturers, there is a new Hyne Timber Mill expansion in Tumbarumba, hydrogen vs. batteries in transport, "cold-air pooling" in forests and much more.

Another packed edition of Friday Offcuts. Enjoy the read.

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Recent Comments

Claims of forest wars are misleading and disrespectful!

Recent claims by activists, media, industry advocates and politicians about the existence or emergence of ‘forest wars’ is completely misleading and disrespectful, claims veteran forester and conservationist Rob de Fégely.

The definition of War is a state of armed conflict between countries or groups of people. In the 50 years I have been studying and working in Australian forestry, there has never been any armed conflict in Australia’s forests!

To describe a contentious debate and/or protest as warfare is not only misleading but an insult to people in Ukraine, Middle East and any other parts of the world where communities are intimidated or threatened by armed force and conflict.

It is also a massive insult to our returned service personnel both past and present who have endured the horrors of real global conflicts, and we will never know what they have endured and suffered as a result of their bravery. However, I am in awe of how many carried their experiences stoically and bravely to make great contributions to build our wonderful economy and community on their return from active service. We owe them a lot he said.

Sadly, in my opinion, claims of ‘forest wars’ are designed to heighten outrage in our caring but often uniformed communities, he said. It is an abuse of our language!

Debate over how we use our natural resources to meet the twin demands of conservation and consumption for 8 billion living people on our planet is important, but it needs to be respectful of the range of opinions and knowledge. Everyone on earth deserves 3 meals per day, to be well clothed and housed, which means we need to produce food, clothing and housing materials somewhere on our planet.

Avoiding impact is impossible. 

The challenge, particularly with wood production, is to develop a natural system with minimal inputs that has multiple benefits including conservation, recreation and production. Australia’s trained foresters work hard to achieve this. Everyone loves wood which is the perfect renewable as we can grow, harvest and regrow it in perpetuity and unlike wind turbines and solar panels it does not require any mining of critical minerals to fulfil its functions.

Despite being the 6th most forested country in the world, Australia cannot supply its own demand for wood, so we rely on wood imports from forests overseas where harvesting standards are often far lower than ours. As we honour our returned service personnel this week and reflect on the armed conflicts past and present, I am tempted to say ‘shame on you’ but I will simply say show more respect!

A Rob de Fegely AM*

*Rob de Fégely AM is a Registered Forestry Professional, a Director of Margules Groome Consulting P/L, Chair of Sustainable Timber Tasmania and a Director of Forestry Corporation of NSW. The comments above are his personal comments and do not reflect the opinion of any entity he works for.

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New immigration settings will hinder NZ forestry

Immediate changes to the Accredited Employer Worker Visa (AEWV) scheme were intended to ensure New Zealand attracts the skills it needs. But forestry, alongside other primary industries, is concerned the changes will create greater uncertainty for primary industry workforces. Changes to New Zealand's immigration settings were announced on 7 April by Immigration Minister, Hon Erica Stanford. 

The Forest Owners Association (FOA), the  Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association (WPMA) and the Forest Industry Contractors Association (FICA) submitted a joint letter to Minister Stanford outlining the impact on forestry and wood processing. 

Crucial points noted were the stress placed on employers health, safety and wellbeing from the potential staff shortages; the significant impact on business continuity under the new requirement that migrant workers must leave the country for 12 months before they can return and progress into a skilled worker category; and that many jobs in our sector are not well suited to the simple qualification tests that are now mandatory. 

While it is important to support infrastructure that will reduce pressures and migrant exploitation, the right balance must be struck between supporting rural employers, and therefore their communities

The FOA, WPMA and FICA have requested a meeting with Minister Stanford to find a resolution to these issues. 

Source: Forest Owners Association

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NZ Log Market Report - April 2024

Over the last month, the China market has settled down after a significant swing down with some key factors moving to the positive, albeit not stunningly so.

Whilst NZ wharf gate prices have been negatively impacted over the last month, some of that has to do with shipping. Despite the shipping cost indicator, the Baltic index, showing weakening freight rates internationally, the charterers of log vessels in NZ are suffering at the hands of more localised demand.

Of those factors I typically monitor in China, inventory and daily usage are the most important.

The Radiata log Inventory has been increasing marginally, as at mid-April sitting at around 4.2 million m3. This has generally been regarded positively with most expecting the inventory to start falling when the NZ Log supply juggernaut starts to slow.

Daily softwood log usage across the China Eastern Seaboard has been running at 60,000 – 65000 m3 per day, mostly the upper end and better than expected by most. This has been the primary reason for a slowed inventory build with NZ supply and usage very closely aligned.

The challenge going forward for NZ will be to maintain a lower production cycle. As China moves toward the heat of the summer, construction activity can be expected to slow down. If NZ does not match that, we can expect CFR prices to remain subdued.

I have stated before and I will not shirk from that which I believe to be true, the need to get the supply construct right for NZ Forestry Inc into critical markets like China has never been greater. The need for a collective discussion about how this might work needs to happen and without delay.

The NZ forestry sector is literally losing billions of dollars in export sales because of a failure to get in a room, sort it out, and work to a plan. And as they say the failure to plan is to plan to fail and that thus far, we have done stunningly well.

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Source: Laurie Forestry

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World’s tallest timber building approved for Perth

Western Australia could become home to the world’s tallest hybrid mass timber building, with plans approved for a tower in South Perth by developer Grange Development.

The ‘C6’ residential tower will be constructed using renewable timber technologies including Cross- Laminated Timber (CLT), Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), and the developer claims it will also be a carbon negative building given its world-class renewable design.

On completion, C6 is planned to reach 186.5 metres high and 50 storeys, which soars well above the 25 storey, 86.6 metre Ascent in Wisconsin, USA that currently holds the mantle of the world’s tallest timber tower.

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Source: The Property Tribune
Image Credit: Grange Development

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Driverless truck trial delayed in Melbourne

A trial of self-driving trucks in Melbourne has been delayed after a last-minute protest by the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The TWU is worried the technology is not safe and the trial was not planned properly. “Due to a lack of consultation with necessary stakeholders, this trial will result in major delays to the critical distribution of freight,” the union said in a statement.

Transurban, the company running the trial, says they have been planning for months and the vehicles were approved by the Department of Transport and Planning and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to drive on-road. They are disappointed the trial has been delayed, but are committed to addressing all concerns and proving the benefits of this new technology. 

This trial is a step up from the first trial back in 2022, where a highly automated truck drive itself along sections of CityLink and the Monash Freeway in Melbourne. The current trial has two IVECO trucks are fitted with sensors, cameras and other self-driving technology to navigate motorway entries, changing lanes, driving inside tunnels, observing traffic lights and responding to any traffic condition they’re presented with along the way. Experienced heavy-vehicle drivers are on board throughout.

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Source: Big Rigs

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New Hyne Timber Tumbarumba Mill expansion

The Hyne Timber Tumbarumba Mill has commenced construction on the largest, new site asset since the Mill was purchased and re- developed in 2001. The new storage facility will be 4700m2 with the capacity to store 4000m3 timber known in the process as ‘Rough Sawn, Kiln Dried’ (RSKD) material.

With development approval granted earlier in the year, Albury based Joss Construction has been appointed to undertake the build. 

The project is expected to inject over A$5,000,000 into the regional economy with local trades and suppliers being prioritised in accordance with the company’s procurement rules. Site preparation has commenced with construction expected to be completed in September 2024.

National Projects and Reliability Manager, Darren Wright, said the construction project is critical investment as part of the ongoing bushfire recovery challenges. “With the reduction in log volume as a direct result of the 2019/20 bushfires, it is imperative we protect our products from adverse weather exposure in order to extract the maximum value. This storage facility will assist in achieving this.

“Being able to utilise both NSW Government and Australian Government bushfire recovery funding to help us meet the construction costs, this has made this critical infrastructure investment possible. “I would like to thank the Australian, NSW and local government for all the levels of support this project has received noting the benefits it will bring to both the site, and the increased volumes of higher-grade timber for the construction sector.” Mr Wright said.

The project has been funded under the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, co-funded by the Australian and NSW Governments and the Australian Government Forestry Recovery Development Fund.

The Tumbarumba community can expect to see increased activity around the site and amongst the town over coming months as this construction gets underway with up to 30 additional jobs created to undertake the project.

Hyne Timber would like to thank the community for their understanding and patience as this critical piece of infrastructure comes to fruition.

Source and image credit: Hyne Timber

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Smart factory assessment available in NZ

Are you ready to embrace the future of manufacturing? Apply for one of Callaghan Innovation’s last few fully-funded Smart Factory Assessments, valued at $10,000. A Smart Factory Assessment allows you to start, scale and sustain your Industry 4.0 transformation journeys through a comprehensive analysis of your operations. Measured against the globally recognised Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI), this framework reveals invaluable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your company, how you compare to others in the industry, and provides guidance on next steps.

The Smart Factory Assessment was set up to overcome this hurdle and help manufacturers continue to evolve and develop, and deliver even better products and services to their customers. 

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Source: Callaghan Innovation

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Transport: Hydrogen still has advantage over batteries

It’s April 2024 and some of Australia’s fossil fuel majors are still touting hydrogen powered vehicles as a solution for decarbonising transport. In a recent article, the ABC quoted Dr Steven Percy, a senior research fellow at the Victorian Hydrogen Hub, who says green hydrogen has the potential to decarbonise transport.

“It’s particularly promising for road freight, where hydrogen has an advantage over both batteries and fossil fuels.” says the ABC, quoting Dr Percy. The article by ABC journalist Jessica Black was accompanied by social media tiles on Instagram parroting the claim that hydrogen has an advantage over batteries showing a H2 graphic alongside a truck, a van and a passenger car.

“Operating a battery electric truck on a route like that is possible but it’s going to require numerous hours of charging time whereas with hydrogen, you can refuel those vehicles about as quickly as a diesel truck,” says Percy.

Victorian Hydrogen Hub

According to its website, the Victorian Hydrogen Hub is a partnership between CSIRO and Germany’s ARENA2036 factory. “The Victorian Hydrogen Hub (VH2) brings together researchers, industry partners and business to drive the implementation of the hydrogen economy.” states the organisation’s website.

However, scroll further down the page and petrol and diesel distributer Ampol as well as the Australian Gas Infrastructure Group are listed as VHH collaborators. The Driven spoke to the Victorian Hydrogen Hub to seek clarification on the research behind the claims made in the ABC story.

VHH chief scientist Professor Virginia Kilborn confirmed that in addition to funding from the Victorian government’s Victorian Higher Education State Investment Fund, VHH also receives funding from its industry partners such as Ampol.

Hydrogen transport claim not supported by VHH research

The Driven asked VHH about the research behind Dr Percy’s claim that hydrogen has an advantage over battery electric transport. Dr Percy was not available for comment, however VHH put The Driven in contact with Associate Professor Hadi Ghaderi, who is also listed on the VHH team, to answer our questions regarding the ABC article.

“There’s no real world Australian field trials and that’s an issue.” sad Professor Ghaderi. “From a modelling perspective, when we look at some of the charging refuelling times there could be some advantage in terms of operationally.”

The Driven asked if the claim was based solely on the metric of charging/fuelling time rather than other factors such as thermodynamic inefficiencies associated with hydrogen, which result in 80% energy losses as well as incredible complexity in hydrogen supply chains compared to electricity.

“To be fair, we need to have both technologies against each other in real world condition and test for this, but both range and charging refuelling time are factors that will influence the comparative advantage of these technologies,” he says.

Battery electric trucks are already beyond real world trials and are in commercial operation. They are also far superior to hydrogen trucks on range and charging time. For example, Tesla’s Semi truck is already operational and has a range of 804 km when fully loaded with 37 tonnes and can charge 70% (562 km) in just 30 mins.

Hydrogen, electric, dual fuel options and results from operational and commercial trials by heavy transport fleets, including log transport operations, is going to be detailed to the wider industry in this regions eagerly awaited Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event running in Rotorua, New Zealand on 22-23 May 2024. An extensive listing of exhibitors – inside and outside the venue – are also setting up for the event. Further details can be found on the event website.

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Source: The Driven

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Forests that may resist climate change

While it’s common knowledge that mountaintops are colder than the valleys below, a new University of Vermont (UVM) study is flipping the script on what we know about forests and climate.

The study, published in Ecology and Evolution, explores forests that experience “cold-air pooling,” a phenomenon where cold air at higher elevations drains down into lower-lying valleys, reversing the expected temperatures—warm at the bottom, cold at the top—that typically occurs in mountainous areas. That is, the air temperature drops with descent from mountain to valley.

“With temperature inversions, we also see vegetation inversions,” says lead study author and former UVM postdoctoral researcher Melissa Pastore. “Instead of finding more cold- preferring species like spruce and fir at high elevations, we found them in lower elevations—just the opposite of what we expect.”

And the effect on these ecosystems is substantial: “This cold-air pooling is fundamentally structuring the forest,” says study coauthor and UVM professor Carol Adair.

This insight “can help forest managers prioritise and protect areas with frequent and strong cold-air pooling to preserve cold-loving species as the climate warms,” says Adair.

The researchers looked at three forested sites in New England, ranging from the shallow, crater-like Nulhegan Basin of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, to the higher peaks and deeper valleys of the Green Mountains, over two years. They collected data on the types of trees present across elevation transects and monitored temperature hourly.

The researchers found that, far from being the occasional nighttime, seasonal phenomenon it’s historically been thought to be, cold-air pooling happens frequently, year-round, well into daylight hours, Adair says. The phenomenon occurred at every site they studied, but was strongest at the site with the shallowest elevation change.

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Source: University of Vermont

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Napier Port container volumes down

Napier Port (NZX.NPH) has released their trade volume data for the half year ended 31 March 2024. Compared to the same period a year ago, total container volumes decreased 17.3%, total bulk cargo volumes increased 21.6%, and cruise vessel calls increased from 62 to 88.

As anticipated, due to the impact of Cyclone Gabrielle on key customers’ production facilities, container volumes are down for the half year. However, during the second quarter we have seen a positive bounce back in refrigerated exports of horticulture, meat and other chilled produce as growing conditions across spring and summer have been favourable. Imports and other container movements, such as transshipments, are down and in line with the national trend of slower general domestic economic conditions.

Despite soft export market demand in China, log volumes were particularly strong during the half year with good volume momentum sustained from our underlying catchment areas. Central north island windthrown forests and additional unprocessed log volume from closures at Pan Pac’s fibre manufacturing operations following Cyclone Gabrielle, also contributed to the strong log volume result.

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Source: Napier Port

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The future of forestry in Australia - hear the discussion

While it is a long-running debate, trees are not just part of the forest, but a valuable part of farms. It's the future of forestry in Australia, according to a recent discussion on the ABC Listen podcast. There are many groups with a stake in the land, from environmentalists, developers, farmers and foresters, and we need to explore how these groups can work together to create a sustainable future for forestry. 

The discussion features Rowan Reid, Founder of the Australian Master TreeGrower Program, Dr. Fabiano Ximenes, Senior Research Scientist in Forest Science, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Professor Rodney Keenan, School of Agriculture, Food, and Ecosystem Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Emily Cotterill, Director of the consultancy The Environmental Factor and hosted by Ashley Bland, Chair of Greening Bathurst and Fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.

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Source: ABC Listen

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Forests can trap airborne plastics

Recent research led by Professor Miyazaki Akane of Japan Women’s University unveils forests as potential terrestrial sinks for airborne microplastics, highlighting another vital service they provide. While microplastics have drawn attention for their environmental and health impacts, their fate in the atmosphere has been unclear until now.

The study, focusing on konara oak trees in Tokyo, reveals that these particles strongly adhere to leaf surfaces, particularly to the epicuticular wax coating. By employing an effective method involving treatment with alkaline potassium hydroxide, researchers estimated that Japanese Quercus serrata forests annually capture around 420 trillion airborne microplastics.

This discovery underscores the role of forests in mitigating plastic pollution, possibly reducing human exposure to these harmful particles. However, the long-term effects of microplastic accumulation on forest ecosystems remain uncertain and warrant further investigation. Nevertheless, this study underscores yet another reason to appreciate the invaluable services provided by trees, potentially safeguarding both environmental and human health.

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Source: Technology Networks

Environmental Forestry 2024

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Successful trials of remote-controlled wood chip scraper

Nippon Paper, trucking company Iwakuni Sangyo Unyu successfully trial remote- controlled robot that scrapes wood chips in hold of wood-chip carrier at Iwakuni mill; scraping robot aims to address safety, workforce shortage in wood-chip scraping operations

Through the development of the scraping robot, the companies involved will work to realize a safe and sustainable cargo-handling environment. In the future, the four companies, NYK, Nippon Paper Industries, Chinougijutsu and Iwakuni Sangyo Unyu, aim to realize a cargo-handling environment where not only men but also women, elderly people, and people with disabilities can engage in cargo handling by operating robots from remote locations away from the cargo-handling site.

In this trial, a prototype scraping robot was operated on a wood-chip carrier engaged in a long-term transport contract with Nippon Paper Industries and NYK. The four companies operated the robot remotely in the ship's hold for about two hours during cargo unloading and achieved the goals, including confirming the scraping robot's functionality.

What is a scraping operation?

Wood chips loaded into the hold of a wood-chip carrier are traditionally gathered by excavators and unloaded by cranes. The wood chips that have accumulated in the corners of the holds or adhered to the walls are collected and scraped off by workers using shovels, forks, and other tools because heavy machinery cannot reach those wood chips or may damage the hold walls when scraping.

There is room for improvement in the current work environment because the scraping process requires climbing up and down the 10-meter holds, the tendency for the holds to be cold or hot due to seasonal factors, and the risk of oxygen deprivation due to the wood chips absorbing oxygen. There are also concerns about future staff shortages due to the aging of the workforce.

Scraping robot features

A remote control moves the arm of the scraping robot's hydraulic excavator and the attached scraper (spatula) and brush. The robot can extend its arm up to three meters high to remove chips from walls, while wood chips that have accumulated in corners can be directly gathered by the lowered arm or pushed out by the brush. The scraping robot can also scrape wood chips trapped in tight spaces, such as structural gaps.

Future Goals

The four companies aim to complete and use the first unit for actual cargo unloading by the end of fiscal 2024. The future goals envisioned by each company through this initiative are as follows.

Source: Nippon Paper Industries

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Buy and Sell

... and one to end the week on… a wooden truck

What can you do in your spare time? A father from Vietnam, Truong Van Dao, crafted a fully functional wooden Tesla Cybertruck in just 100 days. The meticulous process involved creating a metal frame, cutting, trimming, and sizing wooden parts, and adding a bright LED light strip at the front. A video of the build has been a huge hit on YouTube, with over 3.3 million views and more than 44,000 likes. Elon Musk even acknowledged the wooden Cybertruck in a tweet.

And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

Ken Wilson
Editor, Friday Offcuts
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