New ideas for old resource

The Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and the University of Tasmania have launched an ambitious vision for forest products innovation, which would position Australia as a leader in sustainable, low-emission industries.

In a policy proposal to be launched by the Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries, Senator Jonathon Duniam, AFPA and the university have partnered to call for federal government support to establish a world-scale forest industries research and development powerhouse.

Known as the National Institute for Forest Products Innovation (NIFPI), the initiative will be industry co-funded and builds on the success of three pilot NIFPI centres in Launceston, Mount Gambier, and in Victoria’s Gippsland. These were jointly funded by the federal government, state governments and industry to support small-scale, short-term collaborative research projects, AFPA said in a statement.

NIFPI will be headquartered at the University of Tasmania’s Newnham campus in Launceston and work with research networks around Australia to spearhead the development of clean, green and renewable wood-based products of the future.

AFPA chief executive Ross Hampton said that, as the world moves towards a lower emissions future, renewable timber and wood fibre industries were “uniquely placed” to lead the way in replacing fossil fuel-based products such as plastics, chemicals and carbon-intensive building materials.

“Global demand for wood fibre is forecast to triple over the next 30 years as Australia and the world commit to achieving net zero emissions,” Mr Hampton said. AFPA said this will require technology-driven solutions that will open up new opportunities for our renewable forest industries. “However, a significant decline over the past 20 years in government investment in forest industries research and development means Australia risks missing out on new industries being created by the global shift to a circular economy.”

AFPA said Australia is being left behind other countries like Canada, Finland, and New Zealand, which have “world-leading” forest industry research institutes delivering break- through discoveries. “To establish the world-scale NIFPI Australia needs, AFPA and the university are calling for federal government investment of $100m over four years, to be matched by industry.

University of Tasmania Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said Australia must urgently expand its forest industries research and development capacity as part of a drive to a zero-carbon economy. “Sustainable timber will be a critical piece in the mix that will be required if we are to have a zero-carbon economy,” Professor Black said. “Cities of the future will increasingly be built from high-tech timber.

“Buildings are generally lighter, can be constructed faster and provide carbon sinks with the embodied carbon in the timber. “What we need is the knowledge to grow sufficient volumes of timber sustainably, in local conditions, and transform that resource into the products we need to deliver a zero-carbon future.”

Professor Black said the University of Tasmania was uniquely placed to lead the research endeavour in partnership with industry, government and the national research community. “Sustainability is at the core of our mission and we have demonstrated a strong commitment to the future of forestry with more than 25 years leading national centres in forest industry research,” he said.

“Our commitment is to provide the knowledge to support a timber industry that is a critical contributor to meeting the challenges of climate change, protecting biodiversity, and growing a large and vital value-adding industry for Australia.”

It comes after the federal government committed $1.3m in the 2021-22 Budget for a feasibility study into an Australia-wide NIFPI that builds on Australia’s “existing, fragmented efforts,” AFPA said. Under the AFPA and University of Tasmania proposed model, the NIFPI will have a governing board drawn from across Australia to support collaborative research across institutions and coordinate funding to support research out-comes across the full value chain.

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