Innovation created in rePLANT will be continued, Produtores Florestais

12 de June de 2023

Closing event of rePLANT highlights the project’s main achievements and debates ways to boost the forest’s future.

Closing event of rePLANT highlights the project’s main achievements and discusses ways to boost the future of forestry.

After three years of innovating for a greater valorization and competitiveness of Portuguese forests, rePLANT has ended. The results of this collaborative project led by The Navigator Company and CoLAB ForestWISE, which brought together 20 entities, including companies, universities and other research and innovation entities, were disclosed at the event “Digital Forest: Enter the next level”, held in Lisbon on June 1.

“rePLANT has broken new ground, built bridges, mobilized”, said Carlos Fonseca, Chief Technology Officer of ForestWISE. José Luís Carvalho, Head of Innovation and Forestry Development at The Navigator Company, commented that “innovating in forestry is to ensure sustainability, finding solutions applicable to the business”, recalling the importance of this sector that generates 100,000 jobs, occupies 19,000 companies and has an estimated value in ecosystem services in the order of 580 million euros.

Forest, a space for technology

Structured around three main pillars – Forest and Fire Management, Risk Management, and Circular Economy and Value Chains – rePLANT led to the development of new products, processes, and services, largely supported by digital technologies, that contribute to the reduction of fire risk.

Alexandra Marques, executive coordinator of ForestWISE, presented some of the work. “We have obtained concrete results that respond to the needs of the sector,” she said.

In the case of Forest and Fire Management, new pine species more suitable to the country’s natural conditions were planted; new silvicultural practices were implemented to obtain more resilient forests; progress was made in remote sensing technologies, above all in the applications they can have for the forest, such as, for example, in biomass estimation; and a mobile application was developed for more expeditious completion of the forest inventory.

In the Risk Management area, surveillance systems were installed on high-voltage towers, namely optical and thermal cameras, to monitor, protect and anticipate the impact of rural fires on the forest.

In the Circular Economy and Value Chains pillar, Alexandra Marques mentioned the development of a new terrain preparation implement with built-in LiDAR sensors, and a new device that is attached to the equipment and automatically collects information that can be monitored remotely in real time.

The collaborative effort of rePLANT will be continued in the TransForm project, which has the technical-scientific coordination of ForestWISE and the participation of Navigator.

The executive coordinator of ForestWISE recalled that “innovation cycles are slow” and that it is necessary to continue to develop the work started. “The next steps are to continue to monitor the innovation that is happening out there – in terms of teleoperation, electric, hybrid and hydrogen engines, augmented reality, robotics and autonomous transport – and bring them to Portugal, adapting them to our reality,” she said.

It was about technologies that are being developed in other areas of activity, but with application “in harsh environments”, as is the case of the forest, that the president of the Board of Directors of INESC Tec (Institute of Systems Engineering and Computers, Technology and Science), spoke in his speech. José Manuel Mendonça argued that scientists have to solve the challenges that people feel on the ground, which is why this type of collaborative project to create knowledge is so important, resulting in “the ability to advise public policies.

A collaboration to continue

The event “Digital Forestry: Take it to the next level” also promoted a round table discussion on “Driving the future of forestry”, with the presence of António Redondo, CEO of The Navigator Company, José Ferrari Careto, CEO of E-REDES, José Soares de Pina, CEO of Altri, and João Faria Conceição, Executive Director of REN. In a debate moderated by journalist Paulo Ferreira, from Rádio Observador, and based on the results of rePLANT, the speakers talked about innovation and technology in forestry in the era of digital transformation, the relationship between companies and universities, the future of forestry and its contribution to the bioeconomy.

The mobilizing capacity of the project was one of the aspects highlighted, with emphasis on the fact that the collaborative effort of rePLANT will be continued in the TransForm Mobilizing Agenda, presented under the Recovery and Resilience Plan, with a view to the digital transformation of forestry value chains. It has technical and scientific coordination by ForestWISE and the participation of Navigator.

António Redondo, CEO of The Navigator Company, pointed out that rePLANT was able to “bring science and technology to the forestry debate, which is polarized in ideological terms”. At the same time, it also “showed the younger generations that forestry is a path of the future and highly technological”.

The same official stressed the potential of the forest, not only for its role in decarbonization, but also because it is a supplier of raw materials for various purposes, within the bioeconomy, with application, for example, in health and cosmetics, biofuels and bioplastics. However, Antonio Redondo warned about the limitations in Portugal to the growth and planting of eucalyptus (material of excellence for bioproducts), which has the effect of “forcing the industry to import wood from Latin America and Africa, in the order of 300 million euros. Wood that could be produced here.

João Faria Conceição, Executive Director of REN, highlighted the importance of managing the forest and reducing fires, noting that “two thirds of the electric lines are in forest environments”. He also mentioned the project for placing optical cameras in very high voltage power stations, considering them to be “an asset” in monitoring fires.

António Redondo, Navigator’s CEO, warned about the limitations to the growth and planting of eucalyptus in Portugal, which “forces the industry to import wood to the tune of 300 million euros.

José Soares de Pina, Altri’s CEO, alluded to the need to continue the work done in the scope of rePLANT, because “technology, by itself, doesn’t change anything if it is not scaled. The big challenge now will be to figure out what to do with it. He also said he believes that technology can also lead to a modernization of the sector, attracting younger labor.

E-REDES, the company that does the distribution of electricity, was also described by its CEO, José Ferrari Careto, as “an agent in the forestry area” – “We have 180,000 kilometers of high voltage in the forest and more than a thousand people on the ground managing the vegetation, because the more efficient the forest management is, the lower the impact on the billed tariff.”

The Secretary of State for the Economy, Pedro Cilínio, closed the session, highlighting the relevance of the forest as a supplier of raw material for various industries and recalling that “this project had the ability to bring a new dynamic, which has been intensive in various economic sectors, which is the collaboration between companies, research, bringing accumulated knowledge”.

rePLANT lasted three years and had an investment of 5.6 million euros, aimed at improving the management and decision-making processes of forestry and energy companies, introducing a high degree of innovation in integrated forest and fire management.

In, Produtores Florestais, 9 June 2023 (PT)