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Adesire to harness technology to strengthen their respective forest industries is at the heart of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between Canadian forest research company FPInnovations and the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden (Skogforsk) in late November.
The MOU allows the organizations to combine their research might to pursue their interests, while working to solve common challenges affecting both the Canadian and Swedish forest industries: increase machine productivity to maintain low supply costs; make harvesting safer by developing technology for automated forest machinery; and attract a new generation of forest workers to address a chronic labour shortage.
Both organizations have developed their own research projects on automated harvesting to address those challenges. One of FPInnovations’ flagship projects is Forestry 4.0 launched in 2018 to to bring automation to the forest sector. Skogforsk has developed a similar program centred on forest digitalization and machine automation that includes a teleoperations lab.
Imagine a time when people can operate forest machines deep in the woods from the comfort of the city through advanced wireless technology. Such a scenario may sound like child’s play, but it’s a reality that FPInnovations and Skogforsk are working towards.
FPInnovations’ autonomous navigation project and Skogforsk’s teleoperations lab could become interlocking pieces of a puzzle that solves the dilemma of automating an industry that operates in densely wooded remote locations.
“If we want to create impact with speed, we can’t afford to work in parallel. So in that sense, both organizations recognize that working together will take each country’s research on forest industry automation further, faster,” says Francis Charette, FPInnovations lead scientist.
The five-year MOU enables FPInnovations and Skogforsk to share the transfer of information and technology through joint courses and symposia, participate in employee exchanges and study tours to increase awareness of novel approaches, and prepare reports on collaborative research.
MOU is part of a broader initiative
The memorandum was signed at the Sweden-Canada Innovation Days symposium held in Montreal from November 19-21. The MOU falls under the umbrella of the Sweden-Canada Innovation Initiative (SCII) that was launched during the symposium. The SCII is a broad platform supporting long-term relationships to encourage collaboration and foster co-creation of innovation ecosystems between Sweden and Canada.
The Innovation Days brought together Swedish and Canadian stakeholders from government, industry, research and academia to meet and discuss opportunities for joint innovation projects within the mining, forestry and public safety sectors.
For more information on Forestry 4.0 and on automated harvesting, please contact Francis Charette at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FPInnovations and Natural Resources Canada recently held a commercial-thinning workshop in Campbell River, B.C. The event gathered forest professionals from across Vancouver Island who came to learn how to improve stand quality and vigour over the long term, and how to use commercial thinning and partial cutting to manage a range of resource values and management objectives along with practical advice on implementation.
FPInnovations presenters were fibre supply managers Ken Byrne and Philippe Meek, and industry advisor Colin Koszman. Research scientist Jean-Martin Lussier and forest research project leader Derek Sattler presented on behalf of Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre.
A potential boon to the B.C. forest industry
Under the right stand conditions and markets, commercial thinning is a tool that can be used to increase fibre utilization that may otherwise be lost to mortality, and provide stand enhancement for diverse resource value in B.C.’s forests.
“Moving forward, FPInnovations will continue to support our members and strategic partners in understanding how commercial thinning can be applied to their operations with different management objectives that exist in coastal B.C.,” said Koszman. “We’ll be working to publish an FPInnovations commercial thinning Best Management Practices (BMP) guide in the spring of 2020, which is intended to help with the implementation of these practices.”
FPInnovations has been a long-standing proponent of commercial thinning and has facilitated implementation of this long-standing harvesting practice from Europe and Eastern Canada, in Western Canada through government partnerships, research projects, and educational seminars, such as this one in Campbell River for coastal members.
For more information on commercial thinning on the West Coast, please contact Colin Koszman at email@example.com.
Driven by a competitive market, FPInnovations’ Forestry 4.0 initiative aims to automate the forest operation sector. However, a lack of adequate communication networks reaching remote locations is a barrier to real-time supply chain management data for forestry operations.
Low Earth Orbit satellite constellations (LEOs) are a complex network of hundreds or thousands of satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional geostationary orbit satellites. Travelling at much faster speeds, LEOs traverse the Earth approximately ten times per day. The advantage: global coverage and reduced latency (required for teleoperation).
Opportunities and challenges
LEOs promise to provide high-speed internet coverage to remote areas where forestry companies operate and typically do not have cell coverage. With crews frequently changing locations, LEOs are a desirable solution for providing real-time monitoring of forestry machinery and constant connectivity for the transmission of large amounts of data.
Before forest operations can benefit from the technology, LEOs will require lower manufacturing costs through large scale, serial production. Economies of scale of phased array antennas, which direct frequencies to constantly moving satellites, are also needed to reach a broader market and are crucial for eliminating fixed infrastructure.
It’s a race to see which companies will fully deploy the first high-speed, high bandwidth LEO satellite constellation, but there are still many unknowns.
“FPInnovations will continue to monitor and report on marketing developments and determine when these solutions will be available to the industry,” explains Maxime Tanguay-Laflèche, FPInnovations Researcher – Transportation. “With our understanding of industry needs and requirements, FPInnovations will arm forestry operations with insights to feed their decision-making processes.”
For more information, contact Maxime Tanguay-Lafleche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tony Kryzanowski
Alberta’s pulp mills generate methane and methanol as byproducts from their pulp production processes. These byproducts can be converted into higher value, biodegradable plastics, biofuels and specialty chemicals.
A University of Alberta research team is showing industry how to add value to these unavoidable byproducts using micro-organisms called methanotrophs.
Alberta Innovates has provided $340,000 through its Alberta Bio Future program to the U of A team to develop processing strategies that industry can adopt to divert their methane and methanol waste streams economically to create bioplastic granules and liquid biofuels.
Bioreactor facilities to produce these biomaterials can be built alongside pulp mills. Application of the micro-organism conversion technology requires minimal pre-treatment of the waste streams before they enter the bioreactors, offering industry significant cost savings in the manufacturing process.
Converting these byproducts, methane in particular, also delivers a notable environmental dividend, as methane has a global warming potential 28 to 36 times greater than carbon dioxide, based on a 100-year timeframe.
Researchers hope to have a pilot plant demonstrating the methanotroph technology within two years and are looking for Alberta industry partners. The technology has already been proven in other applications.
“Finding alternative value streams for Alberta’s forest sector within existing pulp mills and bioindustrial clusters can create greater value and utilization of our renewable natural resources,” says Patrick Guidera, Director of Forest Technologies at Alberta Innovates. “This work could give our forest sector another revenue stream as well as reducing greenhouse gas production—providing one more solution to solving our climate change dilemma.”
Dr. Dominic Sauvageau is an associate professor of chemical and materials engineering at the U of A and is collaborating on this project with his biological sciences colleague, Dr. Lisa Stein. He says this technology using methanotrophs is an economically viable alternative to byproduct management at pulp mills. It also provides an opportunity to produce biofuels without the raw material coming from a potential food source. Finally, the production of these bioproducts has a lower carbon footprint than production of plastics and fuels from petrochemicals.
“Our research work here is focused on optimization, finding conditions and engineering a process that makes these bacteria efficient, both at feeding on the methane and methanol and also at converting them into higher-value products,” says Sauvageau. “We expect to produce about one quarter tonne of product from one tonne of feedstock.”
This conversion technology can also be used by companies in the petroleum sector that are producing surplus amounts of methane and methanol.
“There has been growing interest in the application of this technology and we have been able to expand and accelerate our research because of the initial and supplementary financial support offered to us by the Biorefining Conversion Network and Alberta Innovates,” says Sauvageau.
He adds that single-use, petroleum-based plastics and their tendency to linger in the environment for centuries is a significant global concern, fuelling interest in the production of completely biodegradable plastic alternatives.
“We are looking at a waste stream that can produce biodegradable plastics that don’t stay in the environment forever,” says Sauvageau. “On the biofuel side, there have always been some issues attached to it related to food versus fuel (in terms of the feedstock used). Application of our technology is entirely different, as we are starting with inexpensive and non-food feedstocks like methane and methanol to produce a higher-value fuel.”
Sauvageau says his team is focused on production of both bioplastics and biofuels to provide industry with opportunities to supply multiple markets. That way, not all mills are producing a single compound where they are competing against each other.
“We are looking at opportunities to create a whole array of products,” Sauvageau says.
For more information about Alberta Innovates’ support for this project and the Alberta Bio Future Program, contact Julia Necheff at Julia.Necheff@albertainnovates.ca.
By Tony Kryzanowski
As we begin the year 2020, it is worth reviewing what has been achieved by the federally-funded, Forest 2020 Plantation Demonstration and Assessment Initiative.
It was an afforestation initiative launched in 2004, in partnership with private landowners, the forest industry, First Nations, and site management service suppliers.
The goal was to plant 6,000 hectares of high yield woody crops to develop and assess tree production carbon sequestration in an attempt to address a changing climate and to evaluate this technology’s potential to produce an alternative and additional fibre source for the forest and energy industries.
“The objective was to shrink rotation ages and increase production by at least eight times the natural growth of the average forest in Canada, which equals to about 13.6 cubic metres or more per hectare per year of growth, over the lifespan of the plantation,” says Derek Sidders, Project Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, (CWFC). The species selected were hybrid poplar, selected aspen clones, and willow clones.
It began with the development by Canadian Forest Service (CFS) staff of a site suitability classification system, which established growth potential for various species in various environments of non-forested land for use by the Forest 2020 site development partners.
The two primary plantation models used were high yield afforestation and concentrated biomass. Over time, CWFC staff also developed and validated a new, mixed wood plantation model, featuring fast growing hardwoods with tolerant softwoods like white spruce and white pine planted in the understory for the production of two valuable crops from the same land base.
While the Forest 2020 program lasted only two years, CWFC staff, with support from the NRCan Forest Innovation and Program for Energy Research and Development, took many of these sites under their wing to establish a diverse network of operational and technical development sites in clusters across Canada, but primarily in the Prairie Provinces, Quebec and Ontario. These were established, monitored, and tracked with practices developed and refined to maximize their yields and used to compare and validate their growth trajectories against forecasts established in the original site suitability classifications.
During site establishment, CWFC developed and validated site preparation, vegetation management and planting propagation systems to maximize success and minimize risk. They also investigated a wide array of harvesting and delivery systems, applicable to a wide range of stem sizes.
“Now, 16 years after the initiation of the Forest 2020 program, we are able to say that it is possible in Canada to grow on non-forested lands, tree species that can sequester carbon, provide raw material for various bioenergy and bio-products, and give us alternate sources of forest fibre that can be used for conventional forest products like pulp, paper and solid wood products,” says Sidders.
He adds that CWFC has been able to grow select fast-growing species to full life cycle and has harvested and recovered crops from these sites. They have partitioned trees and evaluated sites to determine carbon levels below ground in the soil and above ground in the stems, tops and branches.
“Yields as high as 20 to 22 cubic metres per hectare per year were recorded on our selected technical development sites. We selected sites with high soil quality and maximized the intensity of the management,” says Sidders. “And we were able to sequester carbon at rates much higher than was initially anticipated.”
He adds that half of the dry weight of a tree is carbon, and as such, based on the mass of a tree, CWFC is able to determine the carbon content based on the physical fibre aspect of the tree and the enhanced soil carbon values, as leaves, twigs and branches fall to the ground, decompose and mineralize into the soil.
“Not only did we see extreme increases in carbon opportunities above ground on forests that were maturing in 14 to 16 years, but also in the soils below ground, where we were able to increase in some cases, the soil carbon content between two and three per cent. This, added to the tree volumes, equates to approximately 250 to 400 carbon dioxide tonnes per hectare,” says Sidders.
The Forest 2020 program has come of age with excellent evidence that high yield afforestation can contribute to the challenges associated with a changing climate.