High-value processing opportunities unveiled to grow region’s timber sector

DETAILS of the State Government’s research initiative to drive new high-value products for the $1b regional timber industry were unveiled late yesterday to civic leaders and revealed possible opportunities for the South East, such as biodiesel and green chemical production.

Elected members from across the region gathered for the briefing at the Main Corner in Mount Gambier to learn details of the study being undertaken by researchers from Finland.

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is a world leader in translating wood fibre research into tangible business opportunities.

The centre is also globally connected to major international cellulose fibre players and investors.

While details of the study were not announced until late yesterday, it is understood green energy and biochemicals were among the opportunities being explored.

Other opportunities include sophisticated modules for the construction sector, along with bioplastics.

The initiative – driven by the State Government – follows one of the most turbulent chapters in the South East timber industry, with job losses across the sector.

With the region’s timber industry reliant on the cyclical housing structural timber market, it is hoped the research will kickstart new value adding for the region’s sprawling plantation estate.

Professor Goran Roos, from the state’s Advanced Manufacturing Council, said the timber industry could no longer survive in the long-term by undertaking low value-adding activities and needed to explore higher-valued products.

He said the study aimed to provide timber firms with information and knowledge so they could make decisions about their future.

Prof Roos said the team working on the study had already visited around 25 timber firms across the region.

While explaining not all firms had come on board, he said the team had been able to “talk through the issues” with many participating companies.

Prof Roos said there were many opportunities possible for the region’s timber sector, particularly biodiesel, because of the region’s large plantation base.

Meanwhile, Regional Development Australia Limestone Coast chief executive officer Mike Ryan said the research initiative was a key action identified from the economic forum held in Mount Gambier last year.

He said the project was also a need identified in the Limestone Coast Economic Diversification report.

“It is something the RDA is very pleased and happy with,” Mr Ryan said.

He said it was critical the regional timber sector tapped into new opportunities.

“We can’t keep on with what we have been doing,” Mr Ryan said.

“We need new value-adding opportunities to set the timber industry up for the future.”

Mr Ryan said staff from the Finnish research centre had been liaising with regional businesses on the initiative.

Key speakers at yesterday’s briefing included Prof Roos, and Dr John Kettle, from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

The Department for Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy is providing project support for the study.

It is understood regional timber industry leaders have already been briefed on the study.

EXPERTS: Scientist Toni Ahlquist and international business development manager Dr John Kettle, both from the research centre in Finland, stand behind Professor Goran Roos outside the Main Corner before yesterday’s key meeting with civic leaders. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO