Growing a resilient bioeconomy
Land, water and trees are among New Zealand’s most valuable assets. With the world’s population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, it does not take much pondering to realise the value of these assets will continue to increase. More people and wealth means up to 70% more food and at least three times more wood fibre demand compared to now, will be required. A corollary will be increased effort to introduce synthetic substitutes, such as meat and milk with negligible environmental footprints, to the consumers. And, as a 2013 United Kingdom foresight exercise on the future of manufacturingi highlighted, steps to reduce food, fibre and other waste along the supply chain will also intensify.
In parallel, the natural limits of ecosystems and climate change, and the changing consumer and community expectations of environmental quality, are restraining options to intensify land use. Investment in science and innovation to address these restraints to economic growth through, for example, increased efficiency of land, nutrients, water and carbon, is imperative for New Zealand primary sectors to remain export competitive and able to access markets. However, given our relatively modest volumes of production, these steps need to be complemented by a redoubling of effort to add value (margin) in the supply chain in order that returns to land owners are increased (and hopefully not as readily capitalised into land values as in the past).
It is inevitable that these strategic drivers will also precipitate land-use change to lower nutrient leaching options such as forestry, and that this will be necessary at a reasonably significant scale in water and lake catchments with low and deteriorating water quality.
This strategic context is not novel – it is well documentedii, evidence-based and makes it abundantly clear what Scion needs to do to help all aspects of the New Zealand forest industry and bioeconomy to prosper. We must:
- make plantation forests more productive (at least twice), increase uniformity within and between trees, and reduce costs in the supply chain through automation, traceability and robots;
- ensure access and licence to operate with the latest genetic improvement and other forest productivity enhancing and protection technologies;
- recognise and monetise the forest ecosystem services to ensure best, and long-term sustainable use of land and water, and resilient regional economies;
- generate value from as much of the tree as possible, including bark and some of the harvesting residues presently left in the forest;
- exploit the opportunities that the global transition to a ‘low carbon’ bioeconomy present through renewable packaging, lightweight materials, and chemical, energy and other industrial bioproducts derived from wood fibre and forest biomass;
- increase the use of wood in both residential and commercial construction by engineering and modifying solid wood; industrialising building (e.g. prefabrication) processes and ensuring the respective environmental credentials of wood and competing building solutions are well-understood; and,
- adapt and co-develop technologies such as 3-D printing (additive manufacturing), remote sensing and robots that can improve the competiveness of small- to mid-scale companies.
Our approach to all of these areas of science are set out in Scion’s recently approved 2015-2020 Statement of Corporate Intent, which is available on our website along with information about our staff, equipment and other capabilities, and previous editions of Scion Connections.
As always, I and the people named at the end of each article, welcome any feedback and comments on the articles in this issue of Scion Connections. I particularly encourage you to take note of our involvement in the most recently launched National Science Challenge Science for Technological Innovation, and our leading edge work in 3-D printing.
Dr Warren Parker