CORDIS - EU research results

Valorising small diameter trees by cutting them with laser

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LASERCUT (Valorising small diameter trees by cutting them with laser)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2016-11-30

In Bosques Naturales, a Spanish SME from the forestry sector, we have faced a situation that is widespread across Europe. There is an abundant resource, European high quality hardwood, because there are thinning programs that result in the logging of many small-diameter trees (500 million small-diameter trees -12-20 cm diameter- in the next 10 years). Small-diameter hardwood from thinning is highly difficult to process with the current sawing systems because small diameter trees are usually not straight and of conical shape. Small trees are not adapted to the standard homogeneity and dimensions required by industrial machinery, which is designed for larger trees. Therefore, there is a need for hardwood processing lines specifically adapted to small-diameter trees. Lasercut is focused in the objective of integrating a hardwood processing line finely tuned for producing high-value hardwood boards from small diameter trees. For that purpose, the Lasercut hardwood processing line will put together a variety of technologies that are condensated in a Lasercut CNC machine for the final edging of raw boards.
For the successful development of the activities described in this feasibility study the estimated funding needs are ca. 1.5 M€. As a result of this feasibility study, we can conclude that Lasercut has the potential to further develop the business idea. We have better defined the components and characteristics of the hardwood processing line and the requirements of the laser head to be integrated into the CNC edger. Through a number of cutting tests with laser, we have demonstrated that the innovative application of laser for hardwood cutting is efficient when compared with the current solutions. Lasercut gives technical advantages to end users under competitive costs. Furthermore, we have showed that the market niche for Lasercut is big in a context of future market growth in the following years and the abundance of the raw material that the processing line will be able to process effectively. We are confident that the involvement of key partners specialized in the manufacturing and commercialization of woodworking machinery and in the development of laser applications will be of utmost importance for the project. Moreover, in Bosques Naturales we have taken advantage of the coaching services provided by the EU in this Phase 1 and we will be willing to use such service during the Phase 2.
During the four months of execution of the Phase 1 of Lasercut, in Bosques Naturales we have carried out a number of activities to analyse and ensure the feasibility of the project in the next phase of the H2020 SME Instrument, Phase 2. Three main tasks have been accomplished.
1. Technology feasibility study, to define the minimum requirements of the laser through a series of laser cutting tests in which the viability of laser cutting of walnut hardwood has been proven. This tests have shown that the processing parameters depend mainly on material thickness (Lasercut will focus on boards around 1 cm thick), achieving different qualities and cutting speeds depending mainly on the laser power. Similar results are obtained for different material preparations (color and humidity) regarding processing parameters and quality. For the thicker boards (ca 30 mm), humidity lower than 10% is not recommended. Finally, the process is effective for longitudinal cuts and for transversal cuts if hardwood knots are avoided. Within the technology feasibility study we have also better defined the components of the processing line that will be fully integrated. Moreover, we have identified the risks associated with the project and defined a mitigation plan.
2. Financial feasibility study, where we included an estimation of the project costs, in which the development of a Lasercut processing line will require ca. 480,000€ (personnel costs not included). From Bosques Naturales we have already invested 200,000€ and we estimate the project will need 1.5 million € in SME-Inst Phase 2 (70% covered by EU grant) and ca. 250,000€ of investment that will be required for the future development post-project.
3. Commercial feasibility study. We have identified the key partners we are interested in linking to the project, including woodworking machinery and laser applications specialists. The company has developed a freedom to operate analysis showing that there is no conflict for the development of Lasercut. The expected innovations will be subject for patenting. Finally, we have outlined the IPR strategy.
4. Preparation of the business plan. We have defined the business model for Lasercut through the canvas model. We have also analysed the key potential markets and we have identified the end users, in which we have based our 5 years growth projections.
Lasercut will integrate technologies that have already been applied separately to other sectors (e.g. CO2 laser), and for the first time a whole hardwood processing line will be designed to exploit the full potential and add value to a raw material that is currently underutilized: small-diameter high-quality hardwood logs. We will develop an innovative processing line which increases by 18% the efficiency of small-trees’ transformation, making their exploitation economically viable for the first time. In this context, Lasercut will valorize European walnut hardwood from small trees from the current price of 30€/m3 to 400€/m3. This revalorization will be possible because Lasercut will allow to change the use of such high-quality walnut hardwood from fuel wood for energy production to its use in the hardwood flooring market that demands hardwood with the aesthetic quality of walnut. Moreover, the project’s development will have further implications:
• Our company, Bosques Natulares, will diversify its business from the forestry sector and the management of high-quality hardwood plantations to the production of closer to market high quality walnut boards that are highly demanded by the flooring industry. By implementing Lasercut as a whole, we will be able to triple our current turnover, to expand geographically to other European countries, and to increase our personnel in 25% (+10 people).
• For the sawmilling sector will be able to better exploit a resource, small-diameter hardwood logs, that is currently underutilized but will be very abundant in the near future. Moreover, its good aesthetic properties make it suitable for high-value uses such as wood flooring. Added to this, Lasercut solution is more resource-efficient and reduces the risk for sawmills’ personnel thanks to the reduction of sawdust production (80% lower than current edger-saws).
• For the EU. The imports of high-quality walnut from North America will be reduced (nowadays the European walnut is too scarce to meet the demand), and the forestry sector will potentially create 5000 jobs per year. Finally, Lasercut will have a positive environmental impact benefitting a number of ecosystem services and, potentially saving the emission of 35 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere (ca. 2 tons of CO2/ton of wood that would be otherwise burnt).