Andrew Morgan and David Wise together have a company called SFM Environmental Solutions that works in the Tasmanian forest industries. Apart from managing their ‘plantation assets,’ this company is also saving their drowned trunks and bringing them back to a new life altogether.
Some of the leading architects and manufacturers of fine furniture and other items in Australia are happy to go for this rare version of recycled timber. In a recent conversation, Morgan stated that They are a forest management company working since past 17 years. He further added that the company is all about ‘trees on trucks thing’ and this is what explains them the best. Since then, SFM Environmental Solutions has been “engaged in saw milling for solid wood and… woodchips.”
He further says that in spite of the introduction of paperless office, the demand for woodchipping has increased all over the world. It’s used for fibre, cardboard and writing paper. He gives the rise of middle class the credit for this rise in demand. And why not, majority of the products you buy, come packed in a cardboard. Even if you visit a restaurant, you get almost 20 serviette in a restaurant.
Thus, this timber rescue operation is addressing the appetite in ways more than one and has been a great source of lovely timbers known to have unusual colouration, all thanks to its immersion in water. All of the harvested product is known as Hydrowood and as of now comes just from Lake Pieman, in the remote central west of Tasmania. Some emblematic varieties include Tasmanian oak, eucalyptus, blackwood, myrtle and celery top pine with a bit of huon pine (the rarest) and sassafras.
Some of the stimulus for the new business came from a visit to British Columbia where Morgan saw trees floating down the river. He saw the rivers there being used as a very robust system of transport. Apart from that, there was a TV show called The Beachcombers. Both David and Morgan were big fans of the show and in that show, they saw how the rescue of the big Timber was done. Moreover, David is also a pilot. While flying over these lakes in Tasmania and watching the grey trunks sticking out of the water, an idea struck to both of them. They thought of checking the feasibility of the timber to see if that is OK.
They then created a machine to harvest the trees without putting people in the water. However, all this was no easy. They met with a lot of discouraging response. People believed that the timber won’t be good enough and would have rotten. Some called them mad and that they won’t be able to create a machine that works. These were just a few samples of the discourage they received. They built a 140 tonne barge machine that’s self-propelled, with a 45 tonne excavator sitting on top.
“The machine goes down, grabs hold of the tree and with a saw cuts it off at the bottom and then hauls it up to be ferried to shore and processed into boards,” Morgan says.
Then came the year 2012 when the duo harvested their first timber, dried it out and took it to the University of Tasmania for testing. And to their luck, the timber was found to be absolutely fine. The harvesting started in October 2015 under licence paid to government–owned Hydro Tasmania. (The fee remains undisclosed).
Since then there has been no looking back. The company has been approached by people from around the country for removing trees from lakes. In some cases it is for timber harvesting, but in the majority of the cases it is for safety reasons, Morgan says. He believes that there will be enough timber to harvest for another five years, though some lakes still remain. The dup assumes that there is between 50,000-100,000 cubic metres of this submerged timber available overall. And as of now, they have been able to remove only 5000 cubic metres.
Morgan says that though it is quite similar to recycling the timber but that is not sustainable model as in that case timber might have been either wasted or would have thrown to landfill. It is more like mining. Its basically a resource, which one gone is gone. Most of it is being used in high-end furniture and elite interior fittings, mainly in areas like Melbourne, Sydney and Tasmania. A very good is in Parliament Square, Hobart. All the tables and chairs in the committee rooms are Hydrowood. Some of our clients prefer to visit us and watch how timber if treated from raw timber to the beautiful, refined and finished product they get in their home.
Awareness in this business is being shown by people from areas like Queensland, South America, Africa and Snowy 2.0, primarily for safety reasons. However, he doesn’t foresee any competitors in his field anytime soon. They’d be up for a similar investment as his company, which at present is around $7 million.
The company has also established ample amount of intellectual property around the product, particularly the drying process. “And then there’s the novelty factor: we were in first and being first really helped elevate us.”
In various ways, this company is a boon to the timber industry. On one hand, there is this massive demand for the product and a consistent upsurge in prefabrication of numerous timber products.
Architect Jonathan Evans of Tzannes Architects mentioned that after his studio completed the prize-winning International House at Barangaroo, the demand for timber products increased by 30% from clients who now got the confidence in the concept of timber products.
However, there is another set of people who are concerned with the time timber takes to grow, the poor plantation strategies in Australia, the issue of monocultures in plantation and how that squares up with land that might otherwise remain degraded farmland. And with the requirements of the environment.
Certification is a basic issue, specifically on the effectiveness of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) versus Responsible Wood, formerly Sustainable Forest Sustainable Forest Management. FSC is normally assumed as to be more environmentally sound but is still receiving attack from people still don’t find it sufficiently strict. The latter confirms that timber is legally logged, which is of little comfort when it comes to governments (Victoria’s included) that allow seriously questionable practices.
With Hydrowood, there’s an acquittal. No one questions the importance of rescuing it from the bottom of the lakes. But as Andrew Morgan says, it’s more like mining, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.