From Pulp to CLT, is Aussie Blue Gum Key to Timber Shortage?

Tasmanian researchers are now looking to create cross-laminated timber and glulam from trees that are destined for woodchip.

Thu 15 Feb 24


Could WA’s abundance of Blue Gum hold the key to addressing Australia’s shortage of structural timbers?

Speaking to ABC News this morning, Louise Wallis, the deputy director for The University of Tasmania’s Centre for Sustainable Architecture, is working on new research that she said will create high-value structural timber products from pulp trees.

“We’re looking at what sawn-board products we get out of plantation blue gums,” she said, before adding that “we have a lot of them in Australia, but currently something like 80 per cent of them, or more than 80 per cent, are destined for pulp.”

As it stands, more than 75% of timber used in Australian housing is now imported from overseas, with the rush for imported wood the catalyst for researchers to see if pulp trees could be engineered into structural timber products and used in construction instead.

“A lot of processes are looking at the opportunities for engineered timber products,” she said, before adding that “because there isn’t the supply available in native forestry sources, we’ve had to look at how you can generate other products such as engineered flooring, cross-laminated timber, or glue-laminated timber.”

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Dr Louise Wallis (right) says blue gums could be used in engineered timber construction. (Photo Credit: The University of Tasmania)

Dr Wallis and a team of researchers are working with WA softwood mill Wespine to create new timber products, which, according to Wespine Resource Manager Brad Barr, is crucial for the mill’s long-term prosperity.

“The bigger issue that we’re trying to address is the shortage of timber looming in the 2030s,” Mr Barr said. “We don’t have enough to build houses at the current rate using our sources.”

“It’s going to have to come from innovation using resources like the blue gum that we hadn’t considered in the past or through imports from overseas.”

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Wespine’s Brad Barr said the mill is looking at ways to sure-up timber supply. (Photo Credit: Wespine)

The rush to innovate comes when Australia’s plantation estate is at its lowest level for over 20 years.

According to ABARES, the decline in plantation size “is due to ongoing conversion of hardwood plantations to other land uses,” with the total plantation area contracting by 28,000 hectares to 1.716 million.

It reveals that NSW is the engine room for softwood plantations – fueling Australia’s demand for structural timber framing. 

In October, former Australian Forest Products Association Acting CEO Natasa Sikman said the continued decline in plantations “is extremely concerning and a reminder that collectively, industry, federal and state governments and other decision and policymakers must work together to get more timber tree planted in the ground.”

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Australia’s total plantation area continues to decline and is currently at its smallest area since 2003-04 due to the ongoing conversion of hardwood plantations to other land uses. (Photo Credit: ABARES)

Australia’s plantation estate has fallen by over 250,000 hectares over the past decade, with “Australia importing over $6 billion worth of wood products,” according to Ms Sikman, “and rely on imports for up to 25% of the timber we need to build houses.”

In June, Wood Central reported that Australia could have a 250,000 timber-frames shortage by 2035 unless the government invested heavily in plantation establishment.

Accordingly, “as the government looks to build 1.2 million new houses over the next five years, our reliance on imported timber will dramatically increase,” Ms Sikman said.


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