Wood, the wonder material22 November 2018
Panel products are at the centre of the circular economy although ready and reasonable access to woody biomass remains a challenge, writes Clive Pinnington, managing director of the European Panel Federation
“What can I put in my kitchen that does not deplete our world’s natural resources, helps us to move away from our dependency on fossil fuels, and at the same time contributes to our struggle against climate change, oh..... and looks and works like a beautiful cabinet?”
The answer could, of course, be MFC, one of the products represented by the European Panel Federation (EPF). These harvested wood products are sustainable, allow for resource efficiency via the cascade use of wood, can help to create bioenergy at the end of their material life, and continue to store carbon during their lifetime, thereby extending the carbon cycle for many years. This is why we sometimes refer to wood as the wonder material of the future.
Panel production in Europe grew at 3% in 2017 (up from 1.9% in 2016) giving an average annual growth of 2.3% over the last five years (compared to 1.8% average GDP increase over the same period). This faster progress than GDP shows increasing demand for these ubiquitous products, increasingly seen in furniture, construction and other applications. This is a development that benefits the consumer and the environment, and is one that the industry is justifiably proud of.
That said, we can never be complacent.
The biggest challenge to our industry today is ready and reasonable access to woody biomass. Wood-based panels achieved a great step towards this by working with a coalition of downstream users (panels, furniture, paper, chemicals) and NGOs to ensure that the recent Renewable Energy Directive Recast (RED II) included text requiring respect for the waste hierarchy and avoiding undue market distortions on raw material markets (from subsidies). Countries are now preparing their plans for renewable energy in the period 2020-2030, and we greatly hope (and expect) that this will allow existing industries to compete fairly with new ones, especially when it comes to biomass.
Separately, we increasingly have concerns about regulatory affairs. In particular we see the rise of individual countries looking to go beyond existing European regulations, effectively leading the single market of Europe away from its existing harmonised standards. EPF greatly opposes this. EPF supports a single market, with common products allowed to flow across it on a level playing field basis, free from market distortions. This is something that we call on all EU Member States to strive for, including the UK.
In spite of these concerns about regulations and biomass, the wood-based panels sector looks ahead with great optimism. The recent Bioeconomy Strategy published by the European Commission cites the benefits of engineered wood as early as page five (page two if you remove the title and contents pages) and goes on to highlight the positive substitution effect of nonrenewables with wood and encourages the use of the cascading principle.
As the benefits of wood-based panels are increasingly communicated to the public, especially the young, we are convinced that the sector will carry on outpacing GDP. This will continue to bring technically advanced products into our daily lives, improving them whilst also benefiting our planet. This is a precious goal that the wood-based panel industry will continue to strive towards.