One of Australia’s largest forest plantations is investing in biomass and wind farm technology after investors promised to “take the shackles off” and fuel a major expansion in the country’s forest markets.
On Thursday, Wood Central reported that UniSuper, which has more than $120 billion under management, is among a consortium of companies that have secured the Tasmanian-based Forico and its 170,000-hectare plantation forestry estate.
The investors include the UK Pension Protection Fund (PPF) and APG Asset Management NV (APG) on behalf of its Dutch pension fund client ABP, with ‘Brand Tasmania’ playing a pivotal role in securing the deal.
Ownership of the company was up for grabs after the terms of a 10-year investment fund managed by New Forests expired.
New Forests chief executive Mark Rogers, also Forico’s chairman, said the new investors had essentially “unlimited resources” to invest in Forico should it continue to drive a satisfactory return.
The consortium secured the asset in the early 2010s after the collapse of Gunns Limited and, in recent years, has led the world in nature capital reporting, biodiversity, conservation and carbon capture.
It employs over 500 full-time employees and contractors; it supplies hardwood logs to Malaysia fibre and woodchips to China and Japan.
“These are very large super and pension funds; they have investments in everything. They can bring that firepower to Tasmania,” Mr Rogers said.
The investment will see Forico drive a diversification strategy, with the hosting of renewables on its ample estate expected to form a significant part of the strategy.
According to Ange Albertini, CEO of Forico, “the investment helps to secure a prosperous future for Forico and the forestry industry.”
“It will allow us to continue to innovate, adopt market-leading practices, and look at ways to add value to the natural environment.”
Forico is partnering with eFuels producer HIF Global to co-locate a biomass facility at its Surry Hills forest estate.
Last year, HIF Global announced that the construction of Australia’s first large-scale, carbon-neutral eFuels production facility will start in 2024.
The asset is HIF’s third decarbonisation hub, with Siemens Energy and Porsche investing in the fund.
It is part of a global plan to produce over 8 billion litres a year of carbon-neutral eFuels, “enough to decarbonise 5 million vehicles,” according to Cesar Norton, President and CEO of HIF Global.
The site is 40 hectares and is located wholly on the Forico estate, with wood residue from existing forestry activities that will provide the CO2 and water required annually.
“At full operations, the HIF Tasmania facility will produce up to 100 million litres per year of carbon-neutral eFuels, reducing global CO2 emissions by approximately 260,000 tons per year, the equivalent of decarbonising 52,000 cars on the road today,” said HIF Asia Pacific CEO Ignacio Hernandez.
In December, Forico partnered with Abel Energy on its $1.2 billion green hydrogen/green methanol proposal at the former Bell Bay Power Station.
With a capacity of 300,000 tonnes, “it will include world-leading low-emissions renewable power and harvest residues from Forico’s estate to produce net-zero methanol,” according to a media statement.
But it is not just biomass, with Mr Albertini telling the Mercury that Forico is also considering wind-farm development on Forico-managed land.
It could include the proposed Hellyear Wind Farm, also located in the Surrey Hills Estate, one of Tasmania’s renewable energy zones identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator as optimal for new renewable energy generation.
Operated by Arc Energy, “it is suitable for a wind farm,” with the current layout showing up to 48 turbines across the plantation with an output capacity of up to 300 megawatts.
Wood Central understands that construction of the turbines could commence in 2025 after an environmental impact assessment determining the impact of the turbines on Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle populations.