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NXTGENWOOD: A research project to drive increased economic return in the Irish forestry sector

24 March 2021

The forestry and wood sector in Ireland contributed €2.6B to the economy in 2017. As expansion of Irish forestry continues, the economic and employment contribution to the economy will become more significant, but requires innovation to maximise the value of this resource, and ensure environmental and biodiversity concerns are addressed.

Whilst employment in the sector is strong, the return to the economy and environment has scope for improvement since wood products manufactured in Ireland (sawn wood, plywood, MDF and for energy) are of low value, and wood waste is high – with only 1/3 of wood processed at Irish sawmills turned into a final product. NXTGENWOOD will create sustainable commercial solutions to maximise this valuable resource by driving wood product development and processing innovations. A sustainable forestry sector will play a key role in Ireland meeting national and international policy requirements in developing a circular economy, climate change, and the EU Green Deal goals. In the long-term the research program will progress environmental, social and economic benefits by utilising forest residue biomass as a resource for the production of value-added products and the implementation of innovative technologies for producing circular wood-based products.

Investment in research has already yielded benefits and new wood based innovations in Finland. NXTGENWOOD, multisectoral research programme funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will address innovation in structural timbers, green adhesives and resins for bonded wood products such as plywood and MDF, extraction and synthesis of valuable bio-materials and biochemicals, and the development of wood-based composites and biopolymers.

The project will also develop a research network that will:

1) launch higher value wood and wood-derived products into the market

2) generate innovation and unique wood materials/biochemicals that can be exploited

3) develop highly trained people that can enter the Irish workforce and foster the uptake of those emerging technologies

4) support industry in the transition and commercialisation process

5) contribute to Ireland’s sustainability targets
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NXTGENWOOD brings together multi-disciplinary teams from across Ireland, including three SFI research Centres (AMBER, APC and BiOrbic) to advance the value and impact of Irish research. National research leaders, experts in their field, will drive the technical work packages. This includes Profs. K O’Connor (bioeconomy), L Joshi (tree chemistry), R Babu (biopolymers and bioseparation), MA Morris (polymer materials), JD Holmes (nanoscience and coatings/films), M Collins (lignocellulose materials) and F Murphy (ecology and Life Cycle Assessment). Each of these will lead or co-lead each theme or sizeable project, but ensuring management is de-siloed to leverage knowledge from one team to the others. The project derives from discussions with Coillte, Enterprise Ireland, DAFM Forestry representatives and the NZSCION Centre. These will contribute to our scientific advisory board (SAB). We have also consulted with industry to provide a manufacturing perspective and potential products. Two industry representatives will be on our SAB to promote industry participation and co-funding through the project.

In the short term the project will develop a multi-stakeholder consultation process to identify key constraints and opportunities in the sector, with a view to creating a white paper and roadmap.

Collaborate with AMBER

AMBER has a strong emphasis on collaboration. Central to AMBER’s research remit are collaborative projects performed with industry partners, and working with academic, industry and wider stakeholder on international and national research programmes.

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