Australia’s forest industries have congratulated the winners of the international Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Awards, and commended Australia’s applicant Dr Sam Van Holsbeeck from the University of the Sunshine Coast.
Dr Van Holsbeeck, who was nominated by the Australian Forest Products Association, is undertaking research into improving productivity of sandalwood plantations.
The awards are an initiative of the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations. The competition collects proposals from aspiring scientists and young researchers from around the world who have conceived innovative solutions that can help further decarbonise the forest products sector. Finalists are then assessed by an international judging panel after the initial process where they are put forward by national associations.
The 2022-23 winners are Ivana Amorim Dias from Brazil, Ilona Lappännen from Finland and Leane Naude from South Africa.
Australian Forest Products Association CEO Joel Fitzgibbon said forest industries in Australia and globally were at the cutting edge of innovation, especially in the climate change mitigation space.
“That’s only because the sector encourages investment in effective R&D, including initiatives like the Blue Sky Award, so we can realise our potential,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“This is why Australia’s new $100 million National Institute for Forest Products Innovation is so important and that its rollout best supports local industry.”
Research by Dr Van Holsbeeck focuses on the use of wood fibre from host trees that are required for sandalwood plantations to grow effectively, and maximising the use of that fibre to reduce waste and increase output.
His project investigates the potential availability and market feasibility of utilising currently unused woody biomass from Australian sandalwood plantations to supply local business with biomass feedstock.
Sandalwood plantations contain multiple species of plants that are used as hosts for the hemiparastitic sandalwood, which is considered a waste product when the sandalwood is harvested. This creates a potential source of biomass that is currently not utilised.
Dr Van Holsbeeck’s research will ultimately help local Australian suppliers get more out of their plantations and open up exciting opportunities for local manufacturing of forest products.
“The world needs forest industries, not just for the essential products we create, but for the climate mitigation power we have,” Joel Mr Fitzgibbon added.
“The Blue Sky Award is an excellent initiative that AFPA, along with the broader forest sector in Australia, will continue to support while continually making the case for public investment in R&D.”