We’re Going to See More Forest Products
For a long time, forest product manufacturing has been dominated by a handful of products – paper, lumber, panels, and energy accounting for the vast majority of products made from the timber grown and harvested across this country. Of course, each of these categories has lots of grades or differentiation, but at the core, these are the products that come from the forest.
That’s about to change. These products will still make up most of what’s made from the woods, but we are on the cusp of many more goods being made from harvested wood– which has potential benefits for the entire forest industry supply chain.
In the Northeast, we may be a little further ahead than other regions in diversifying our product mix, in part as a reaction to the loss of several pulp mills in a short period of time. This loss of market, totaling about 4 million tons of annual consumption, inspired FOR/Maine’s effort to identify and recruit appropriate wood-using industries to the Pine Tree State.
The state is already seeing investment in manufacturing new products using wood, including:
- TimberHP has just commenced production of insulation using softwood chips at its manufacturing facility in Madison, Maine. Located at the site of a former pulp and paper mill, this company uses proven European technology to produce loose, batt and board insulation products for home construction.
- Standard Biocarbon is finishing the construction of a biochar facility co-located at a sawmill. This plant will use mill residuals to produce biochar, a charcoal-like product that sequesters carbon and can be used as a soil amendment in agriculture (among other potential uses).
- There are also multiple biofuel projects under development, as well as a number of firms evaluating the region for new investment opportunities.
Of course, the Northeast isn’t the only region with new products moving from the laboratory toward construction. The South has multiple biofuel and bioproduct projects under development. This year’s FRA Annual Meeting was attended by a representative from a major oil company, presumably not because they sell our industry lots of diesel (though they do, in fact, sell our industry lots of diesel and other products).
This isn’t necessarily new – the forest products industry is always growing, evolving, and redefining itself – just take a look at FRA’s Supply Chain Schematic. A couple of decades ago, wood pellets were a niche product used mostly for home heating in a few cold regions of the country. Today, major wood pellet manufacturers export pellets by the boatload to Europe, and the industry continues to grow.
A diversity of products supports the entire forest industry supply chain, providing new markets for landowners, loggers, and often mill residuals. These new products may be on business cycles that differ from existing forest products, making the supply chain more robust and benefiting everyone.
Of course, new market entrants bring challenges with them – they don’t necessarily know how the industry works and where they might fit in. Projects that derive from other sectors (e.g., biofuels) may expect contract terms far from the norm in the forest industry. They may have fiber sustainability and traceability specifications for regulatory compliance or customer requirements that don’t mesh with existing systems. These are all challenges that can be, and will be, overcome with time and creative problem-solving by all parties.
FRA has long been the place where the entire forest industry supply chain – from the woods to the mill – can come together to work on resolving conflicts and enhancing opportunities for all. That will continue, and we should expect those around the FRA table to be ever more diverse as our industry evolves.
To learn more about For/Maine and their support of the Forest Products Industry, watch this video:
Forest Opportunity Roadmap / Maine (FOR/Maine) is a unique cross-sector collaboration between industry, communities, government, education, and non-profits, which have come together to ensure that Maine strategically adapts and capitalizes on changing markets to maintain our leading role in the global forest economy and support prosperity in our state.
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