Achieving our science goals

Meeting our strategic outcomes as set out in our 2016-2021 Statement of Corporate Intent


Science outcome 5-15 years - Maximise the value and profitability of commercial forests and their ecosystem services

Leading indicators 3-5 years - and achievements in 2016-2017:

Sustainably increase the productivity of New Zealand forests

The Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future (GCFF) programme has made significant progress towards a better understanding of the key drivers of forest productivity and is developing a range of management interventions to increase productivity and profitability. The programme has demonstrated that increasing site utilisation by increasing final crop stocking can substantially lift productivity, and many companies are altering their silvicultural regimes to reflect this. The first application of the phenotyping platform quantified the key environmental factors affecting productivity and how different seedlots perform across these environments.

The GCFF programme continued to generate better information on the physiological basis of tree growth and how trees respond to different stimuli/stresses. Results from an operational nursery trial demonstrated that seedlings with improved growth and equivalent or improved nutritional status can be produced using a fraction of the chemical inputs conventionally used.

In simulations on the potential impact that genomics has on the delivery of genetic gain in conifer breeding programmes, genomics was found to increase considerably the genetic gain when the size of the training population was largest or when the heritability was higher. Compared with forward selection, simulations showed that genomic selection had the potential to deliver an increase of up to 24% per generation for wood density and up to 19% for growth.

Deploying clones of the selected individuals always resulted in higher additional genetic gain than deploying progeny/seedlings.
Genomic selection was tested for the first time on tree breeding traits. With genomic information used in the breeding analysis, it appears that between 13 and 115% additional genetic gain over traditional breeding will be available to breeders. With clonal propagation, genomics looks like an efficient and effective means to rapidly deliver genetic gain to the forest.

Accurate, precise and reliable physical description of plants (phenotyping) is vital to determine underlying genetic and environmental influences. Trees are difficult to phenotype because they are large and grow in the forest, unlike agricultural plants where rapid mass phenotyping in glasshouses has reduced breeding cycles and delivered new genotypes for a range of environments.

Scion has developed a prototype, novel phenotyping platform as the first step towards the use of phenomics in forestry. This platform harnesses new sensor technologies and the use of accurate and reliable geographical information systems to relieve the phenotyping bottle neck and put forestry on the same footing as agriculture. The impact of this platform will be transformational, where outstanding trees and the environments they perform best in will be identified to inform future breeding decisions.

Newly planted biotech trees (for improved growth and new lines for improved processing) were planted out in the field trial where they are establishing well. The trees will be regularly monitored to follow their growth as the trees develop and in accordance with our field trial approval.

Extract value from forests and dispersed forest holdings

Scion partnered with ForestX, a New Zealand on-line trading board that lists forests for sale. Scion’s wide range of scientific tools are used to provide production expectations for the listed forests. The trading board was launched in August 2016.

Log price outlooks were disseminated quarterly.

A feasibility study for an inland container terminal at Kawerau, presented to stakeholders in early 2017, has led to the district council and other parties embarking on the process to establish a container terminal in Kawerau with a rail link to the Port of Tauranga.

Quantify the role of forests in increasing economic, environmental and social outcomes for New Zealand

Use of Scion’s spatial economic modelling system, the Forest Investment Framework (FIF), continued to increase with new projects for a number of regional councils, central government agencies and the forest sector. The first ecosystem services assessment for a major New Zealand company’s forest estate showed the significant contribution of ecosystem services (e.g. carbon, erosion control and recreation) to the full value of the estate in addition to timber. Also excellent progress was made on the development of biodiversity, avoided nitrogen leaching and water flow functions, which will add significant functionality to FIF in 2018.

The sixth annual (and first regional) forest ecosystem services forum held in Havelock, Marlborough, was attended by a wide range of regional and national stakeholders and focussed on new approaches to link ecosystem service flows across land and marine sectors. This was the first stage of a national programme on new economic and spatial approaches to ecosystem service flows and will link land-based primary sectors with marine-based aquaculture.

Forestry and its multitude of values lends itself to a new national System of Economic-Environmental Accounting approach (i.e. more than just timber), and a quantitative framework (i.e. computable general equilibrium model) was developed to assess the economic impacts from environmental, fiscal and trade policies on various primary industries (including forestry) nationally. The team is working with NZ Forest Owners Association, Ministry for Primary Industries, Treasury and Statistics New Zealand to scope out the opportunities for using an ecosystem services framework as a basis for this approach.

Science outcome 5-15 years - Increase the profitability of solid wood processing through customer solutions and supply chain innovations

Leading indicators 3-5 years and achievements in 2016-2017:

Facilitate new seed-to-market value chains for specialty wood products

A forest-to-product study quantified the timber grade recovery that could be obtained from farm tōtara. The study took approximately 40 m3 of logs that were harvested under a sustainable management permit and processed these into appearance grade timber. The properties and the grade of each board were assessed and the results showed good recoveries of high-quality appearance grade material. This work helps to underpin a future industry based on the sustainable use of the farm tōtara resource.

In partnership with Scion, Ngāti Whare established an indigenous commercial nursery at Minginui to provide employment and planting stock to the 10-year Te Pua O Whirinaki Regeneration Plan. The plan aims to restore the identity of Ngāti Whare and enhance the value of Whirinaki for New Zealand.

The potential of genomic selection was investigated in an advanced third generation Eucalyptus nitens population with the breeding goal for solid wood production.

Genetic gains using genomics showed that a considerable improvement in tree material towards high-value solid wood production is achievable when certain selection criteria are included in the breeding programme.   

Many high-value international markets demand naturally durable wood. The challenge with such high-value timbers, including many of New Zealand’s indigenous species, is drying them in a way that provides high timber recovery and enhances wood material properties such as stability. Building on our experimental knowledge of the effect of supercritical CO2 on key wood/water relationships, and the effect of mechanical stress, we have successfully predicted the softening effect of CO2 on wood material by means of predictive modelling. The results allow us to determine the effect of process parameters on dewatering efficiency, and moisture-related distortion, for a wide range of scenarios, as well as providing an engineering scale-up design tool for larger plants.

We showed that for a hard-to-dry species the use of supercritical CO2 and a new thermal drying technique can reduce the development of shrinkage and internal checking.

This work is supported by novel drying research with an industry partnership focussing on eucalypts, Douglas-fir and cypresses. These potential drying solutions could be applicable to some indigenous species, such as tōtara and beech, and is part of a programme with Ministry for Primary Industries, Northland Inc, Tane’s Tree Trust and iwi in developing greater economic returns from planted tōtara.

Expand opportunities for wood products and building systems

Scion continued development of high performance wood products (such as very durable and stable wood) with results from scaling up of two technologies using radiata pine. We can now justify moving to commercialisation of these modification technologies, proved to improve the stability and durability while enabling radiata pine natural feature to be expressed in a wide range of colours from natural hues to bright vivid colours. Further novel approaches to protect and enhance a range of wood species are being explored at laboratory-scale, such as thermal modification of non-radiata species.  This technique was applied to three species with success. Results indicate that improvements to durability stability have been achieved, and importantly for the species trialled this technique produces new colours with greater uniformity, which should lead to new market opportunities.

Scion continued to develop options to address an important market issue, e.g. wood treatment options that avoid the use of highly toxic chemicals such as copper-chrome-arsenic (CCA) formulations. After three years, our biobased chemical durability samples in above-ground trials (decking, flat-panel, joinery and framing) showed no signs of decay. We are now exploring some of the secondary effects that our biobased chemical durability treatment may have on paint and fastener corrosion performance, and a long-term exposure trial was established. In response to increasing demand for non-radiata species we treated a range of house framing and exterior decking applications and established long-term exposure trials.

Many home and building decisions are made by designers and developers who focus on the cosmetics and functions of houses. This drives a ‘code minimum’ approach that does not always produce energy efficient and healthy homes.  We produced a demo version of a tool that collated a wide range of background material on current building design and built environment planning decision tools, including international research initiatives, existing tools and software. The work supports development of Scion’s interface and partnership with the Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities National Science Challenge. With an international secondment we explored the role, the uptake and impact of life cycle analysis and environment product declarations in the New Zealand building sector.  Via our work in the built environment we secured a position in the Australian Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Advanced Solutions to Transform Tall Timber Buildings, which aims to grow the role of timber in the medium rise buildings.

Science outcome 5-15 years - Expand opportunities in the wood fibre, pulp, biopolymer, packaging and biochemical industries and from their biomass side streams

Leading indicators 3-5 years and achievements in 2016-2017:

Develop new industrial bioproducts for existing and emerging manufacturing industries in New Zealand

Success in phase one resulted in follow-on funding for The Gates Foundation “Reinvent the toilet” challenge.  Good progress was made towards building a prototype. Market analysis was completed of opportunities in the developed world where such a simple eco-friendly toilet could be used.

The Woodforce licensee in Europe (Sonae-Arauco) continued to work hard at opening the market for Woodforce with good engagement in the automotive sector and small sales volume. Concurrently, Scion is progressing initiatives to understand and open the Asian market for Woodforce.

Scion filed a patent to protect its novel high-moisture barrier coating that increases the lifetime of paperboard packaging in humid conditions. Discussions with several New Zealand and overseas companies are underway to establish commercial trials of the technology.

Our formaldehyde free and 100% biobased adhesives technology for use in engineered wood products was named Biotechnology of the Year by NZBIO and received other accolades. The adhesive, named Ligate™, was introduced to targeted global companies resulting in significant interest.

The biospife – a novel spoon-knife produced through a partnership between Zespri, Alto and Scion – is made from bioplastic material (PLA) that incorporates kiwifruit residues. It is designed to be composted with the skins after the kiwifruit has been eaten. Biospife was officially launched at Fieldays 2017, and >300,000 biospifes were produced by Scion and Alto.

Scion produced biodegradable bioplastic vineyard net clips containing red grape pomace. Development of the next versions – targeting defined degradation timelines - is underway. The commercial proposition for large scale manufacture is currently being evaluated.

Science outcome 5-15 years - Increase New Zealand’s energy security through the use of forest and waste biomass for bioenergy

Leading indicators 3-5 years - achievements in 2016-2017:

Accelerate the use of bioenergy and liquid biofuels in New Zealand

Scion submitted on the draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy, and the new strategy now contains targets for industrial heat and transport.

Several New Zealand Biofuels Roadmap stakeholder workshops were held and the results of the modelling work was presented to all key stakeholders. Valuable feedback was fed into the next phase of the project.

The Bioprocessing Alliance Ecostock project aims to develop a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to land filling of pre-consumer food waste through the use of anaerobic digestion technology yielding energy and a nutrient rich digestate as a fertiliser product. The plant commissioning was successfully completed, with consistent operation to date.

External communication of the findings from the Industrial Symbiosis project resulted in several invitations to speak at conferences. Findings show impact of closer interaction of operating plants on profit, jobs, greenhouse gas emissions and more.

Science outcome 5-15 years - Protect and enhance market access and improve risk management in the forest industry including forest health and preparedness for biosecurity incursions, fire and climate change

Leading indicators 3-5 years and achievements in 2016-2017:

Ensure New Zealand forests are resilient to current and future natural threats

Scion’s fire behaviour models helped operations staff make decisions on where it was safe to deploy firefighters and what properties and communities were at risk and needed evacuating during the Port Hills fires in Canterbury.

Breeding for resistance to needle loss caused by Cyclaneusma minus has been included in the needle disease strategy of Pinus radiata in New Zealand since the late 1970s. Using data from the North Island (New Zealand) and from Tasmania, Australia, we confirmed that resistance to this needle disease is moderately heritable. Using statistics we also determined that considerable genetic gains, up to 30%, could be achieved with further selection.  

Significant research progress was made into chemical control of wildings, including strong engagement with end users.
Very successful planning workshops and field trips were held with local and international collaborators to firm up the new Extreme

Fire programme, with focus on how fire spreads and integrated fire modelling systems and tools.  

Trials showed that copper could provide viable control for red needle cast.

Resistance to red needle cast was indicated for some industry relevant radiata pine genotypes.

The Urban Toolkit for Biosecurity progressed by developing an aerial spot spraying system that is a useful method for pest eradication in an urban environment, particularly where aircraft access is challenging.

Scion developed a risk-based forestry biosecurity surveillance system that should lead to improved early detection and eradication probability when adopted in 2018.

A keynote presentation at an IUFRO conference in Vietnam on host and geographical range of Phytophthora species and their risk of spread to new regions became a key talking point of the conference.

Collections and molecular reference material from the National Forestry Herbarium assisted the myrtle rust response by helping to identify potential myrtle rust host plants.

Science outcome 5-15 years - Ensure the forest industry and bioeconomy businesses’ licence to operate

Leading indicators 3-5 years and achievements in 2016-2017:

Sustain New Zealand forest industry and bioproduct manufacturers’ licence to operate

Working with a range of primary industry stakeholders and research providers (Plant and Food Research, Lincoln University, University of Otago, CSIRO, University of Tasmania) and international experts from Canada and the UK, we identified ‘trust’ as a major component of social licence to operate and developed a conceptual approach to explore this. We explored a number of elements of social licence through an international virtual symposium and New Zealand workshop. One outcome was the framework for a wide-ranging conceptual paper and future collaboration. We obtained support from the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge for a scoping project on trust and will establish a national primary sector discussion forum on social licence to operate in late 2017 to take the research further.

Our ongoing research in the detection of wilding conifers resulted in initial successes being able to detect unwanted spread of conifers from plantations with large-scale deployable remote sensing systems, allowing plantation managers to manage their spread more effectively.

We initiated a successful collaboration to better determine the risk of wilding spread from plantations by wind-modelling.

Through interactions with schools, the public, government, regional councils and industry players Scion continued to give input into the biotechnology debate occurring in New Zealand. Our contained field trial of biotech trees was maintained and shown to numerous stakeholder groups. Scion is keeping New Zealand informed through membership of international fora such as the EPSO Agricultural Technologies Working Group on regulatory issues with GMOs and new breeding technologies.

Scion was one of nine New Zealand research organisations participating in the newly formed New Zealand-China Food Protection Network, which aims to enhance communication between research scientists, government organisations and industries here and in China.

Scion achieved proof of concept that tritium dating could become an additional more precise method of authenticating biobased products. Working with GNS Science and the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, Scion validated the idea. If accepted as an international standard, this methodology will add more certainty around the ultimate source of plastic and make it more difficult for counterfeit products to enter the market.

We were represented on three Standards committees (two New Zealand and one joint Australian/NZ) including chairing of NZS 3602 ‘Timber and wood-based products for use in building’.