Forests reduction was a lesser evil, needed to supply the demand for wood used in ships and buildings, and to increase the area of crops due to the continuous population and food demand growth.
However perception is changing. Forests are not only sources of exploitation but tools that we can use to improve agricultural production and mitigate the advance of climate change. Think about the benefits they bring:
- Reservoir and regulation of water flows.
- Food reservoir.
- Climate stabilization and CO2 sequestration.
- Shadow and shelter.
- Energy obtaining (forest biomass).
- Habitat for natural pollinators and predators beneficial to agriculture.
- Space of leisure and rest.
In Europe, more than 40% of the area are forests (161 million hectares). Of these, 134 (more than 80%) are under human management, which shows the importance of reconsidering what actions we want to promote, and what their consequences are. At present the exploitation of European forests is based on: energy (biomass, 42%), sawmills (24%), paper industry (17%) and panel manufacturing (12%). Nearly half of renewable energy consumption comes from wood, and Europe continues to increase its share. Thus, biomass will be a market with great potential, as it was demonstrated during the international event Expo Biomasa 2017, celebrated in September in Valladolid (Spain), which gathered more than 18.000 professionals from 30 countries.
The European Union, through its R&I financing instrument H2020, seeks to improve the protection and sustainable management of forests through the following actions:
- Minimize pollution through CO2 sequestration and the development of new technologies and solutions for the use of wood materials.
- Develop a circular bio-economy based on forests.
- Increase the adaptability and resilience of forestry systems.
- Protect biodiversity in agricultural systems and their surrounding ecosystems.
- Increase the performance of paper mills and valorise their by-products.
Participation of all agents across the productive process (from R&D centres and universities, to public administrations and companies) will be essential for achieving success. Especially small enterprises, as the main innovation drivers of Europe, have exciting chances of generating more sustainable and profitable business models.
From our experience in innovation, we know that the challenge is not only to develop new technologies, but also to be open-minded and be able to detect opportunities beyond our traditional operative sector. We just need to be enthusiastic and design the correct roadmap. At RTDI we have helped many companies to open their minds, do you dare to take the plunge?
Irene Baena, RTDI.