Woodland and forestry owners have the opportunity to access a potential new income stream in the coming months as a market opens for one of the less commercially valuable species of tree – the humble birch.

Generally valued for its decorative appearance rather than for its wood, the conventional perspective of birch trees is set to be shaken up by a cutting-edge process being launched in the North East.

Recently established on Teesside, technology development company Nova Pangaea Technologies (UK) Limited (‘NPT’), specialises in breaking birch wood chips down into their component sugars which then form the building blocks of for use in biofuels, plastics and chemical manufacture.

Birch has been selected because of its very specific composition which makes it particularly well suited for this process. High levels of sugars can be readily extracted from this type of wood, which can then be transformed into valuable component chemicals which we use every day. As well as being utilised for bioethanol fuels, the sugars are valuable to the food, beverage, chemical and plastics industries. Processing is carried out in multiple stages and every element removed from the birch chips is useful.

Thanks to funding from the Department of Transport, NPT are currently setting up a demonstration plant which will process fresh wood chips at a rate of two tonnes per hour and is due to be completed by the end of the year. There’s just one key requirement – lots and lots of birch trees. The plant could need up to 50 tonnes of birch chips per day once it is running at full capacity.

Two companies have stepped up to the challenge of sourcing the quantities of birch the new plant will require, both with relevant knowledge and experience in the forestry and bioenergy sectors.  Biomass company re:heat of Alnwick, Northumberland, is a dedicated team of biomass energy specialists, who have been driving the growth of the sector, from fuel supply through to system installation, since 2003.

RDI Associates is a project management, consultancy and training service provider based in Ripon, North Yorkshire, with experience in rural development, forestry and biomass and an enviable track record of delivering both demand and supply side projects across the UK.

The pair have joined forces in the search for available birch in an area covering a roughly 75 mile radius from Teesside, to allow the plant to operate at full capacity in 2018. As part of their efforts, they are asking woodland owners with birch available to get in touch and discuss the opportunities that this exciting new market presents.

Neil Harrison, director of re:heat, says:

“This is a great opportunity for the UK forestry sector to play a key role in the transition from crude oil based fuels and chemicals to the new bioeconomy. The plant will be state-of-the-art and highly efficient, making best possible use of every part of the wood it processes. Birch may not have been seen as economically valuable for anything other than firewood in the past, but we now have an interesting new market for these trees which landowners may want to consider. We look forward to working with farmers and forestry professionals to realise this new market opportunity and plan how we establish a sustainable source of birch long term.”

Will Richardson, director of RDI Associates, agrees.

“The technological timber processing developments by Nova Pangaea Technologies at Teesside offer real added value opportunities for forestry in the North of England and South Scotland. Utilising low value birch roundwood offers an exciting opportunity to manage areas of regeneration and to thin out native woodland plantings which have been established over the last couple of decades.”

If you are a forestry or landowner with birch available within an economically viable supply area (roughly a 75 mile radius from Teesside) and would like to find out more, please get in touch. You can contact re:heat on 01665 665 040, email info@reheat.uk.com or visit the website www.reheat.uk.com. RDI Associates can be contacted by calling 01765 609 355, emailing  enquiries@ruraldevelopment.org.uk or visiting them online atwww.ruraldevelopment.org.uk.