Cascading use: a strategy for the future?

What is the idea behind the cascading use of wood? Why is it central to federal resource policies? Under what conditions can this much-heralded principle have an impact on the market? The organisation "Arbeitsgemeinschaft für den Wald" (AfW) held a round-table event in April to discuss these questions.

The event of the AfW took place at the wood-fired power plant in Basel on 24 April 2014. At the plant, a considerable amount of wood is directly transformed into heat, without any prior material use. Such processing is not in conflict with the concept of cascading use, said Andres Klein, president of the Basel Forestry Association and head of the plant's board.

No cascade without water

He added that the plant only burns wood that cannot be sold profitably elsewhere. In his view, the cascade only functions if enough wood is produced at cost-covering prices and if this wood can be profitably processed locally (to minimise transportation). If the price of wood for construction and industry is not right, a large proportion of wood is used directly for energy. Thanks to their stake in the plant, the forest owners of the area (represented by the umbrella organisation Raurica Wald AG) have a reliable outlet for the wood that they otherwise cannot sell. Christoph Starck, director of Lignum, warned of a situation in which the energetic and material uses of wood are in competition. In neighbouring countries, the promotion of alternative energies has created wrong incentives which are seriously endangering the cascade. In Starck's view, the key to the multiple use of wood lies in the enhanced valorisation of recycled wood for energetic purposes.

Material use creates more added value

Quoting an as yet unpublished study, Alfred Kammerhofer, head of the Forest and Timber Industry Section at the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), said that the material use of wood generates more jobs and added value (overall and per cubic metre) at all levels of the cascade than the use of wood for energetic purposes. Cascading use, he added, can only be expanded if all stakeholders cooperate with each other. The FOEN has therefore elaborated relevant questions for politics, industry and society and is committed to discussing them with the involved actors. NRP 66 is also focusing on cascading use: 23 of the 30 projects are dedicated to material or chemical uses of wood. In addition, the research team of Stefanie Hellweg (ETH Zurich) is investigating the entire life cycle of existing and future wood value chains.