Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 6: Choose Life. Choose the Forest.

So far, we have considered how we owe our very existence- both in terms of biology (part 1) and culture and civilisation (part 2).  We have then considered how we need our forests to provide us with the physical materials to live (parts 3 to 5).

In this instalment, we consider our current need for forests in terms of biology and well-being.

The leading cause of death in the UK is Heart disease, accounting for around 14% of all deaths.  A complex lifestyle disease, death rates can be reduced by improved exercise, reduced stress and medicines.

According to UK statistics, the average person visits woodlands around 10 times per annum, typically (65%) to walk.  This is ideal physical activity for reducing heart disease.

Going for a walk in woodland is an effective way of reducing your risk of heart disease.

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It is important to develop healthy lifestyles when young and forests are often used to teach activities such as cycling.

Cycling is a particularly effective way of maintaining a healthy heart.  It is important to introduce people to the sport young, and forests are often used for this due to the lack of vehicle traffic

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“A major barrier to woodland recreation is accessibility.  Planting more woodlands near to where people live, together with improved access routes could transform people’s health.”

Recent scientific research has shown that the proximity of trees brings specific health benefits, reducing stress, mental illness and even improving the creativity of children.

“safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses.”

This is very important.  For example, amongst males 5-49 years and females 20-34 years, suicide is the largest cause of death.

Hugging a tree could save your life!

Blog 6.3The effect of a forest environment on other major killers is also profound.  For example, diesel-particulates are now considered a major killer, contributing to deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer, which are the 4th and 5th largest killers in the UK.  Indeed, the UK government estimates are now that diesel particulates cause 6% of all deaths in the UK.

Recent research has shown that planting a few trees in your front garden can reduce the concentration of deadly particulates by 60%, such as in a replicated trial involving pot-grown birch trees.

“Electron microscope images of the leaves of silver birch trees show why they are so good – they are covered in tiny hairs and ridges which help trap the pollution particles. Their sparse structure also helps keep the air circulating and flowing past the leaves to filter it effectively (rather than trapping pollution near the ground as bigger and denser trees do). Each time it rains, the PM pollution is washed off the leaves, allowing them to start trapping more.”

Trees are astonishingly effective at absorbing diesel particulates due to structures on the surface of the leaves.

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If you want to avoid medical treatment, it seems that the answer is to go for a walk in a forest.

But, what if you do need medical treatment????

Well, if you are suffering from or at risk of cardio-vascular disease, the UK’s largest killer then you are likely to be prescribed aspirin, plant stanols or perhaps a specialist drug such as digitalis- all of which are from forest plants.

If you are suffering from breast cancer, which is the largest killer of females in the 35-49 year group, then Taxol, made from the Pacific yew is the drug of choice.

Essential medicines such as aspirin (willow bark), plant stanols (pine), digitalis (foxglove) and taxol (Pacific yew) are made from forest plants.  It takes 2.5 tonnes of pine to make 1kg of stanols.

 So however you look at it, forests are probably going to save your life.

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

 

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Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 5: Wood is HOT!

In parts 3 and 4 we have seen how wood can be used to provide us with shelter and clothing.  In this instalment, we consider how wood can be used to supply us with energy.

We have been using wood as a source of energy for the last 800,000 years, but 1/3rd of the world population still rely it on as their primary source of fuel and consumption is increasing fast in the developed world.

According to the FAO, globally around half of all wood is used for energy production.

The three main uses discussed here are for heat, electricity and the production of liquid biofuels.

Wood is a highly effective method of space heating and a range of products, such as briquettes and pellets, as well as firewood are available.
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The use of wood for energy is increasing rapidly.  For example, in Europe between 2009 and 2020, per capita consumption of biomass use is expected to triple.

Wood is also used to generate electricity, such as in Combined Heat and Power plants and dedicated electricity power stations.  A wide range of facilities are used, demonstrating the versatility of wood as a fuel.

The largest, Drax power station is expected to use 7.5 million tonnes of pellets, equivalent to 15 million green tonnes of wood per annum by 2018.  This makes it the world’s largest single point user of wood in the world, consuming more than the entire UK timber harvest.  Because of this, Drax imports pellets, mainly from North America.

Drax is the largest power-station in Western Europe, generating 7% of the UK’s electricity.  Half of its generating units have been converted to burn wood.

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On a more regional level, a number of industrial energy users now use locally sourced woody biomass to provide combined heat and power.  As the ‘surplus’ heat is used, as well as locally available fuel, this can be particularly efficient.

UPM Caledonian used to be the largest point user of electricity in Scotland until it commissioned its CHP biomass plant using locally available woody biomass.  The heat is used in the manufacture of magazine grade paper.

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At the Diageo distillery at Cameronbridge, the largest in Scotland, 95% of the energy is provided from biomass, with the heat used for distillation.

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Even more radically, wood is now being used to manufacture liquid bio-fuels, such as diesel.  This can be manufactured using a range of technologies, such as the utilisation of pulp by-products, pyrolysis or biochemical fermentation.

The UPM bio-refinery at Lappenranta is the world’s first commercial scale process producing wood-based bio-diesel. It can produce 120 million litres annually.

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So why, in the 21st century is global wood-fuel use increasingly so rapidly?

Firstly, wood is a great store of energy.  Indeed, dry wood has a similar energy content to coal.  However, unlike fossil fuels, timber does not release ‘fossil carbon’.  The real carbon benefits however are through the ‘smart’ use of timber- for example using ‘waste’ wood (e.g. recycled wood) which otherwise would not be used, but would eventually decay.

Wood is also available locally, and the best solutions are specifically designed to use what is available- normally low value sources of woody biomass.  By contrast, fossil fuel production is highly concentrated. For example, Drax Power station now sources its coal from Australia, Colombia, Poland, Russia and South Africa.

The flexibility of wood means that it can be used by an astonishing range of technologies.  For example, the cost of a BioLite stove is around £35, whilst the Lapeenranta wood bio-refinery cost £140 million.

The best energy solutions use appropriate technology and locally abundant fuel sources.  This BioLite stove has been developed to improve fuel efficiency and burn cleanly and is being supplied to a number of developing countries

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“Around 3 billion people rely on open fires or traditional stoves as their primary form of cooking and heating”

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

 

 

Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 4: The Sexiest Material in the World……

In part 3, we looked at how wood can be used to provide our fundamental need for shelter.  In this article, we look at how, in the 21st Century wood and trees can meet our fundamental needs for clothing and sex and how our use of wood-products reflects changes in society.

As Desmond Morris points out, in his seminal book, we are ‘The Naked Ape’.  Humans developed clothing as part of their technology to colonise the world.  Animal skins may be okay for cavemen, but in the 21st Century, we could do something, well a bit sexier.

In the 21st Century, safe sex and distinctly ‘risque’ sex are both intimately associated with tree products.  As well as condoms and clinging clothing, latex is also used for other intimate accessories. Latex production remains a major global industry.

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Trees and timber, of course provided the answer.

One early technology, the production of natural rubber provided mankind with a material with highly unusual properties.  Latex is a milky fluid present in some trees and is commercially harvested from Hevea Brasiliensis.  From the late 19th Century, rubber fuelled an economic boom in Brazil as new uses were developed for rubber during the industrial revolution.

In the 21st Century, however, latex is used to manufacture condoms.  As such it plays a vitally important role in birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. By giving women choices, this effective form of contraception has played an important role in facilitating gender equality globally, especially in areas where other forms of contraception are not reliably available.  It is essential for ‘safe’ sex.

By contrast, in its use for clothing, latex is generally associated with explicit sexuality.  Whether being used to portray a particular stereotype of women in a music video, or celebrating a more diverse sexuality, amongst a huge variety of  ‘niche’ sexualities, it is associated with ‘dangerous’ or ‘risque’ sex.

In the 20th Century, semi-synthetic fibres, such as Rayon were developed.  Made from wood cellulose, these fibres were soft, smooth, durable, strong, cheap and easily dyed.  As such they helped the development of colourful fashion for the masses.  A very democratic fibre!

21st Century wood products enable modern living.  High performance fibres such as Tencel are ideally suited for modern lifestyle.

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Fibre technology has improved in stages, so that current fibres, such as Tencel have dramatically improved performance.  More absorbent than cotton, softer than silk, cooler than linen, this is the current state of the art for wood-based clothing fibres.  It’s excellent wicking and natural anti-bacterial effect mean that it is also ideal for sportswear.

Once again, wood-products help to facilitate our modern way of living.

Globally, there are now three main sources of fibres are available.

‘Natural’ fibres, such as cotton can have very significant environmental impacts.  For example, the production of cotton needs up to 20,000 litres of water per kg.  Large quantities of pesticides are also required and cotton farming accounts for 24% of insecticide sales.  Indeed, cotton production has been associated with large scale environmental destruction.

‘Synthetic’ fibres, such as nylon are made from fossil fuels.  These processes are energy intensive and can release harmful products, such as Nitrous oxides.  Even more seriously, such synthetic fibres do not readily break-down in the environment, causing log-term pollution issues.

‘Semi-synthetic’ fibres, such as rayon or tencel are made from wood, a renewable material and naturally break-down in the environment.  Indeed, it can even be eaten by termites and silverfish!  Because of this, only semi-synthetic fibres can be considered as truly sustainable.

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The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 3: Building our future out of wood…..

Shelter is one of mankind’s most fundamental needs.  In Part 1, we found that the construction of wooden shelters was one of the key technologies allowing mankind to colonise the world and in Part 2, we realised what a crucial role it played in building civilisations.

In this article, we look at the future of timber in construction.

In construction terms, we are in the ‘Late Concrete Age’.  Concrete is the single most widely used construction material in the world and recent demand is such that China used as much concrete in three years (2011 to 2013) as the USA did in the entire 20th Century.   As a result, 5% of global man- made carbon-emissions are from concrete manufacture.

The ‘concrete jungle’ can be a hostile environment for mere humans and such structures can be a by-word for brutal architecture and uncompromising urban decay.

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“Amid concrete and clay and general decay, nature must still find a way………” (The Smiths, Louder than Bombs).

‘The Smiths’ eloquently described the hopelessness of living amongst a high rise estate, but, if we are to find a better, more human way to build our cities, then how can we achieve it?

The answer, quite simply is to use our 21st Century wood technology.

Current technology, such as the use of cross-laminated lumber has been used to build nine-storey buildings, but 30 storeys are already possible.  Buildings of this size make effective use of limited space, whilst remaining at a human scale.

The Stadhaus apartment building in Hoxton, London is built from engineered wood

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The Stadhaus was built more quickly than conventional construction, with zero defects.  It has excellent thermal and acoustic insulation and is cost effective.

Built using sustainable timber, very little carbon emissions are used in construction.  However, the structure itself acts as a store of carbon, fixing 186 tonnes for the lifetime of the building.

At the end of its life, the wooden structure can readily be recycled into panel products, such as chipboard by a range of UK manufacturers.  In turn, chipboard can be used as a source of combined heat and power, such as at the UPM Shotton boiler.

One tree, four lives….. a spruce tree spends one lifetime growing in the forest, and another in construction. It can then be recycled into kitchen units, before being burnt in a Combined Heat and Power Station.  In the UK, the total lifespan could be over 125 years.

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Combined with other factors, such as well-planned transport systems and urban trees and green-space, such construction techniques have the potential to make cities better places to live and raise our children.

So it seems, that the answer to the 21st Century is to build our new wooden structures amongst the trees……..sound familiar anyone?

The clever use of trees can help to ‘humanise’ our cities.

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The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website