Forest research brings sweet smell of success for “Blue Sky” winner | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Forest research brings sweet smell of success for “Blue Sky” winner

As demand for timber grows amid a global shortage, a University of Sunshine Coast researcher will represent Australia on the world stage with an innovative climate positive project that is creating new opportunities for plantations of highly aromatic sandalwood.

Dr Sam Van Holsbeeck, Senior Research Fellow at USC’s Forest Research Institute, was recently awarded the national Blue-Sky Young Researcher Innovation Award, organised by the Australian Forest Products Association.

He now progresses to the international round of the prestigious award, sponsored by the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations, where three global winners will be selected.

Dr Van Holsbeeck’s research is part of an industry collaboration to use renewable, biological material as a fuel that would otherwise go to waste in sandalwood plantations, grown in remote regions of Australia.

The emerging Australian sandalwood industry produces pharmaceutical grade Sandalwood oil – treasured for its medicinal and healing properties – and wood products that are sold globally.

Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton said the research would ultimately help local Australian suppliers get more out of their plantations and open exciting opportunities for local manufacturing of forest products.

“As we have seen from the COVID-pandemic and the tragedy in Ukraine, supply chain shock waves have reverberated around the world, meaning local timber resource supply is incredibly important, not just for sustainability but for economic resilience,” Mr Hampton said.

Dr Van Holsbeeck hopes to have a winning edge over his global competition through his research focus on combining high-value sandalwood products with sustainable, carbon-positive forest management, that makes additional ‘positive’ contributions to the environment.

Sandalwood is a parasitic tree that needs on average two host trees to grow beside it. At harvest, the host trees are considered a waste product.

“My research looks at opportunities to use these host trees for feedstock for clean energy and a lower carbon economy. Preliminary results show that an average of 10 tonnes of waste per hectare is available,” he said.

“Growing trees, storing carbon in wood products, and recycling biomass into renewable energy or char products for soil improvement are all positive actions toward the environment,” he said.

“Offsetting more emissions than it produces makes forestry the most carbon-positive industry on a local and global level.”

USC Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor Ross Young congratulated Dr Van Holsbeeck on the award, which he said helped to highlight the University’s internationally recognised strengths in forest research.

“The theme of much of this work is to ensure that forest industries have a stronger environmental focus in the future, including the use of what is currently considered waste biomass.”

If chosen as an international winner, Dr Van Holsbeeck will present his project at the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations Global Roundtable in April next year.

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