Hardwood timbers and their use as a renewable building product is increasingly viewed as a preferred option.
Movement to plantation timbers is also being driven by the economics of the products and the diminishing supply of traditional regrowth and old growth supplies.
The use of more juvenile plantation hardwoods provides a great respect for the environment as it is farmed and for being a carbon sequestration event through growth.
The Hermal Group is a diversified private company operating nationally for the last three decades. The Group has operations in construction, timber wholesale, modular construction and the marine environment. The Hermal Group also have specific holdings in the Tasmanian Sullivan’s Cove whisky business.
Until recently The Hermal Group were the owners of Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH) which we sold to the Victorian government.
For three years the Hermal Group has invested in research and development on developing methods to use juvenile plantation hard wood timbers, specifically the species E.Nitens, as a kiln dried timber in timber value add products manufacturing. Concurrently investment has been made in identification of marketable opportunities for such products.
Research has also been undertaken in the area of wood waste utilisation from the milling process for use in electricity generation.
Milling Plantation E.Nitens
The Hermal Group is proposing a new and innovative approach to efficiently and effectively convert juvenile, Eucalyptus hardwood plantation logs into high value structural timber to take advantage of multi-storey mass timber construction.
The Hermal Group is a long-established, reputable private family group run by the Goldschlager family, in Melbourne, Australia. The family has been continuously involved in the timber industry for more than seven generations.
The Hermal Group is also experienced in Property Development, Project Management and Property Investment.
The Group’s Victorian Ash sawmilling and high value adding hardwood business, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH), was acquired by the Victorian Government in September 2017. However we do hold interests in timber wholesaling.
Being innovative and creative, as well as committed to sustainability and community, the Group embarked upon a major project and experimented with juvenile, plantation grown Eucalyptus hardwood logs, developing innovative new IP in a range of areas for cutting, drying and processing of this timber.
These were independently tested and engineered to confirm their structural integrity.
There is an opportunity to create a new vibrant and viable hardwood plantation based, high value industry in Tasmania which is why we are building this new facility. This new forestry industry will provide hardwood manufactured products into new areas of the market.
Manufacturing an appropriate range of Cross Laminated Timber Panels (CLTP) (Registered) products which can be transported and utilised in new projects, providing an amazing new concept of “PLANTATION to PROJECT”.
Separately, the Group has worked in the renewable, Green Energy space is working with Moash University on finalising “Bio-Char-Paste” fuel which is ideally suitable to power a Direct Injection Carbon Engine (DICE) or Diesel-style engine (instead of Diesel). The base raw material used was timber wood waste, such as green sawdust and wood chips, derived out of Forestry/Sawmilling operations. We will have more to say on this in coming months.
Tasmania is the market leader in Australia in terms of the availability of plantation growth hardwood timbers. Unfortunately, the original market for this timber was that of the chip and peeler market. The loss of the Gunns operations saw a significant drop in the demand for this product.
E.Nitens is a predominant plantation species in Tasmania due to it being able to attain a higher fibre content in a short period of time. I t is a fast growing species. Currently there is a substantial amount of holdings across the state of 15 to 25 year old plantation timbers. The largest holder of this resource is Forico with a substantial number of smaller area holdings.
We have initially focused around E.Nitens, however, E. globulus would also be a suitable plantation hardwood species.
Forestry Tasmania Planation Holding
Most of Forestry Tasmania’s eucalyptus plantations are still maturing.
Of the 41,000 ha of eucalyptus plantation under Forestry Tasmania’s management, only 15 per cent (6,300 hectares) is 20 years or older, while 33 per cent (some 13,900 hectares) is younger than 10 years.
Plantation sawlog timber is generally harvested between 25 to 30 years of age while pulpwood trees are harvested at around 15 years of age.
By 2027, these plantations are forecast to also produce about 77,000 cubic metres of high-quality pruned logs annually.
Forestry Tasmania grows two main eucalyptus species, Eucalyptus globulus (Tasmanian blue gum) and Eucalyptus nitens (shining gum). Both species have been selected for high growth rates and desirable wood properties. Approximately 80 per cent of the total hardwood estate is currently shining gum, as this species has better frost and disease resistance than Tasmanian bluegum.
However, Tasmanian bluegum timber has superior wood properties (density, strength and pulp yield) to shining gum, making it more commercially attractive. As plantations mature and are harvested, plantings of Tasmanian bluegum may increase to around 50 per cent of the eucalypt plantation estate
The challenge had been finding a way to turn the small diametre juvenile timber into a hardwood production material. Traditionally there are the obvious issues of spring and bow of the younger timber which is less stable.
Each species of timber requires its own process for it to be kiln dried and used as a straight stable building material. The Group ’s previously owned company, ASH, is the market leader in Kiln dried, laminated product and it utilises the Vicash species of timber, which was sourced from state owned regrowth hardwood timbers.
Vicash is one of the more complex timbers to work with however the input product is sourced from old regrowth forest areas giving it internal fibre stability and naturally good sized diametre logs. It is also a product that has over decades defined and developed its market and with that acceptance from the public as a blond hardwood timber.
The ability to laminate the smaller end pieces and the work that has been done by ASH and others in creating market acceptance for laminated timber products has opened the way for sTART.
The market for glue laminated timbers is well established and provides access to new timber products that would have otherwise not been available.
Innovation in construction and the increased use of off-site built modular construction has directly impacted work practices on site and design thinking.
These changes in the building market for timber construction have created a market opportunity for cross-laminated structural timber. We have successfully developed and tested the source timber and dried product for use in cross-laminated construction. See attachment A for results on the strength testing of our source product.
The research effort by the Hermal Group has been the first to identify the process of turning juvenile timber into a dimensionally stable, kiln dried product. During 2015 through to 2017 this research was undertaken and a successful process has achieved such a product.
The juvenile timber input will see its application in the cross laminated process.
Cross lamination allows the use of large quantities of lower quality plantation grown logs as input resource. This generates an extremely strong building product achieving high strength ratings in the initial tests.
The use of the E.Nitens will be firstly in the manufacturing of beams and panels through the cross lamination process.
The lamination process is not new as glue lam is used extensively in hardwood post and beam construction with different, older, species of hardwood. The cross-lamination process has been used with softwood products previously, however the difference here is the use of juvenile plantation hardwood that enhances the structural properties of the end products compared to pine.
The processing operations and the facility itself are not encumbered by legacy items and as such has enabled us to identify state of the art sawing, processing and drying plant and capital equipment. Input logs will be ultrasonically tested upon landing at the facility and track tagged to enable computerised sawing specifications. The use of the tagging process will ensure that the best cut of the timber is attained.
We have identified two European machinery options both of which allow for single pass sawing of the material. Single pass sawing provides sawn timber for the cross-laminating process.
The kiln drying process that will be utilised is one that will see the single pass sawn material moved from the green mill directly to the kilns after a short resting period.
Following the drying process the timber will then be placed into the laminated production facility.
The laminating machinery is the largest single investment area of the process. Production will be driven by technology and automation. This enables exact dimensions in the generated product and significantly lower operating costs. Traditional hardwood manufacturing operations require between two and three people per cubic metre of processed logs. sTARTs new approach will significantly lower employee cost which is the largest single recurring input cost for the business enabling sustainability of this business.
Calculations to date on the employee ratio to timber volume through our proposed processing facility will see this number settle at a bit less than one FTE per cubic metre of input logs.
The consequence of a highly technical process is the need for a much higher level of capital investment at the commencement of the project. Automated scanning, cutting, drying and laminating processes not only require significant investment in the equipment involved but also requires significant covered floor space for the operations.
The greenmill processing facility will be around 4,000m2 per 100,000 cubic metres of input logs.
Kiln drying capacity will require 80 lines per 100,000 cubic metres. The lamination facility will require around 5,000m2 per 100,000 cubic metres of input logs.
Administration, management, marketing and support operations will be housed in Burnie with the production facility.
The Green Mill
The ultrasonic testing of the logs identifies the log density and sizing of logs so that the parameters can be set for the optimal cut of that specific log. Utilisation of this process reduces waste in two areas. First it minimises the waste from the number of cuts that have to be made and it reduces the incidence of incorrect settings of the saws.
Use of this technology enables the mill to operate with a small number of large saws and minimises the labour expenditure in the milling process. Current milling processes in the hardwood industry utilise between one and three people per 1,000 cubic metres of input logs with around 55% of the input material becoming waste, dependent upon their level of technical innovation.
This waste is based on the experience of cutting large mature logs. The logs that will be used in the proposed mill are juvenile logs of a smaller diametre which will only exacerbate the level of waste and if traditional cutting processes are used the log recovery levels we estimate to be sub 30%. This level of recovery would be too low for a sustainable business model.
The use of ultrasonic testing and the use of a multi-blade saw will have a significant impact on the wood fibre recovery rates and reduction in labour input to a point of making this mill a very different material proposition. The counter of course is the level of upfront investment required in this infrastructure.
The Manufacturing Plant
The key to the success of this proposal is in the high value add production facility. This facility will include cross-lamination timber building systems, CNC to specification cutting and glue lamination and finger jointing plants.
Cross Laminated Timber
Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a wood panel product made from gluing layers of solid-sawn lumber together. Each layer of boards is orientated perpendicular to adjacent layers and glued on the wide faces of each board, usually in a symmetric way so that the outer layers have the same orientation. An odd number of layers is most common but there are configurations with even numbers as well (which are then arranged to give a symmetric configuration). Regular timber is an isotropic material, meaning that the physical properties change depending on the direction at which the force is applied. By gluing layers of wood at perpendicular angles, the resultant panel is able to achieve better structural rigidity in both directions. It is similar to plywood but with distinctively thicker laminations and enhanced in-service structural properties.
CLT was first developed and used in Germany and Austria in the early 1990s, but it was only after the mid 1990s that more extensive research was completed. By the 2000s CLT saw much wider usage in Europe, being used in various building systems such as single-family and multi-story housing. The main reasons behind the rise of CLT were because of its sustainability and lack of detrimental effects to the environment, but also improved marketing and availability.
CLT is currently made from pine and other softwoods.
In 2015, CLT was incorporated into the national design specification for wood construction. This specification was used as a reference for the 2015 international building code, in turn allowing CLT to be recognised as a code compliant construction material. These code changes permitted CLT to be used in the assembly of exterior walls, floors, partition walls and roofs. Also included in IBC 2015 were char rates for fire protection, connection provisions and fastener requirements specific to CLT. To meet structural performance requirements, the code mandated that structural CLT products met the requirements specified by ANSI/APA PRG 320.
There are no hardwood CLT products in the world. The ability to provide the market with large floor cassettes and wall panel utilising hardwood will generate a new market opportunity.