Wood in the Bioeconomy - Opportunities and Limits

© Richard Eisenmenger

19.04.2016 -

Wood is a valuable resource for the bioeconomy and could be used much more efficiently in Germany. This is apparent from an analysis published today by the Biocconomy Council.

Wood is a valuable resource for the bioeconomy and could be used much more efficiently in Germany. This is apparent from an analysis published today by the Biocconomy Council.
Wood has previously been used in Germany mainly in the construction industry, the furniture industry and the paper and packaging industry. In addition to this, a third of the wood sold in Germany each year is burned directly, mainly for heating private households. In view of the increasing demand for wood-based raw materials in industry, Council member Prof. Dr. Folkhard Isermeyer stresses, "We should strive for the highest possible quality of wood utilization. With cascaded utilization we can achieve double dividends." He says there is a growing number of research projects worldwide which are developing high-quality product innovations using wood and wood components, such as materials made from lignin. They will gain in importance in the future and it will be necessary to adapt forest policy. In terms of a sustainable bioeconomy, the experts are recommending, among other things, new strategies to increase timber yield – for example, through the rehabilitation of forests and moderate expansion of forested areas. "The choice of tree species is crucial for afforestation and mixing. Conifers are considerably more productive than deciduous trees. Their wood is also suitable for a wide range of products. When introduced appropriate to the location, tree species such as the Douglas fir and Grand fir could also be integrated expediently in mixed forests," is the recommendation of Council member Prof. Dr. Reinhard Hüttl. He says that, in view of the anticipated climate changes, more attention should also be paid to the right quality of forest reproductive material.

A sustainable bioeconomy policy should also bear in mind that due to the different ways in which they are used, forests play a variety of roles for society and the ecosystem. Council member Prof. Dr. Georg Backhaus stresses, "Apart from timber production, forests are important recreation and leisure areas for the public. They also contribute towards protecting the environment, biodiversity and the soil as well as acting as a CO2 sink." On the one hand it would be necessary to develop new methods of protecting forests against abiotic and biotic stress to protect and conserve domestic stocks, while on the other hand experts are calling for the consideration of new import strategies. Nevertheless, they warn that this would only apply to certified wood. The Federal Government would therefore have to do more worldwide to ensure that forests are rehabilitated and reforested, and to ensure that certificate forgery and illegal logging are effectively prevented.

The Bioeconomy Council also points out the huge importance of education and research in forest and wood sciences, and criticizes the fact that capacities in Germany have been reduced in recent years while further cutback measures are threatened. Sustainable forest care and management and the value-based use of raw materials do, however, require a high level of specialist knowledge. The Federal Government would have to find ways to boost the capacities of the remaining institutes and to provide targeted support for young scientists. Chair of the Council Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun stresses, "This is the only way to complete urgent research tasks and prevent a momentous loss of knowledge."

Data and facts on forestry in Germany:
Approximately one third of Germany is covered by 11.4 million ha of forest. Forest management is therefore the second most important land use nationwide after areas used for agriculture. Nearly half of German forests (48%) are privately owned. The federal states own 29%, corporations 19% and the Federal Government only 4% of the forest area. With a total stock of 3.7 billion m³, Germany has the largest stock of wood in the European Union. Within the last decade (2002 to 2012), the average stock per hectare has increased by 7% to 336 m³. Approximately one third of the wood is currently used directly for energy. The proportions differ, however, between the tree species groups. While with softwoods more than three quarters of the wood is used for products, the situation is almost reversed with hardwoods. In their case, approximately two thirds is used for energy. 76% of the wood used for energy is burned as domestic fuel in private households. The remainder is used in roughly equal proportions for commercial heat generation and combined power and heat generation.

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