Did you know that 60 percent of Alberta is covered in forest?
Forestry is one of the largest industries in Alberta. employing over 19,000 Albertans. The forest provides us with a renewable resource that we use in many ways. And because it’s renewable, we’re able to manage it sustainably, to make sure that we always have healthy forests and that we have access to products indefinitely.
Sustainability is incredibly important. Plants, animals and insects rely on the forest for a home. We rely on the forest for recreation, products and oxygen. Because of this, we have environmental scientists that work together to make plans for the forest that go up to 200 years in the future.
We also have hard-working tree planters that plant over 70 million trees each year in Alberta. What do you think about when you think about forest products? Probably building materials like lumber, paper products like facial tissue and toilet paper, but there’s a lot of other things that we don’t really think about when we think of trees.
We have scientists working at research institutions and forestry companies, working to develop alternative forest products. Some of these organizations include FP Innovations and Alberta Innovates. One major area for forest products innovation is in building materials. And I’m talking beyond the two-by-four, and onto engineered wood products.
Some engineered wood products that you might be familiar with include plywood and OSB [oriented strand board], but there are others that have very different applications. Pictured next is gonna be CLT, which stands for cross-laminated timber. This is a wood panel made with lumber oriented in opposing directions, which creates exceptional strength and stability. Also, the thickness of CLT makes it fire-resistant, because when wood… thick pieces of wood burn, they char, which creates a protective barrier.
Products like CLT also provide enhanced load-bearing capacity, and so we’re able to make large wood buildings, like this student residence at the University of British Columbia. But forest products innovation goes well beyond building materials.
Cellulose, which is basically the building block of a tree, can be used to bulk up our products: things like toothpaste, makeup and some of our foods, like salad dressing and ice cream.
Another really cool area of innovation in… oh, sorry, I’ll talk about the applications. So we can actually use this plastic for water bottles; if you’ve ever seen that little green plant bottle symbol on your water bottle, on your Dasani bottle, that plastic has come from plants. Also, some car companies are using these plant-based plastics for their plastic car parts, like car door panels.
Biofuels are another area of innovation in forestry. Many forestry companies are using wood residuals, which would otherwise go to waste. Things like sawdust and wood chips, and… to generate power for their mills, and selling the excess to the grid.
Pulp mills are also making another kind of biofuel. Lots of water is used in the pulp-making process, and before that water can be returned to the river it came from, it must be cleaned. So they use micro-organisms to clean the water, and when they decompose, they give off a gas which can be trapped and used for a fuel.
This may look like a pile of dirt, but it is actually something called lignin, which is a natural byproduct of wood. It can be used for the plastics and biofuels that I’ve mentioned, and it can also be used as an adhesive.
Drones and related technology
Drones have some pretty cool applications in forestry, because they are able to reach areas that are difficult to get to. Some applications include mapping, doing post-wildfire monitoring, and taking an inventory of both the forest and of logyards.
Why are these men wearing sunglasses inside? [shows photo] Those are actually 3-D glasses, and they’re used for… to view aerial photography through 3-D mapping software. This allows foresters to see information like wildlife populations, tree height and species right from their office. Aerial photography can also be downloaded onto tablets, and brought right out into the forest, allowing foresters to identify significant features of the land base: things like bear’s dens, nesting sites and water courses.
The mountain pine beetle
There’s also significant research going on with respect to the environment. How many of you have heard of the mountain pine beetle? Lots of you; so they are wreaking havoc in our forests, especially in BC but also in Alberta, and scientists are working on ways to get ahead of the beetle: things like prescribed burns, and pheremone baiting.
Changes in the forestry workforce
Baby boomer retirements are making the forest sector face significant gaps… a significant gap in the workforce, and another focus is also diversifying the workforce. So if you or anyone you know is interested in a sustainable, innovative sector, you might want to take a look deeper into the woods.
Forests are managed sustainably in Alberta, and as you can see, many discoveries have already been made, and there’s tremendous potential if we continue to invest in this renewable resource. Thank you.
To read more about cellulose, visit Cellulose nanocrystals could be a wonder material for strengthening construction materials»
video: Edmonton’s NextGen