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Using fallen trees for eco-friendly reconstruction promoted in disaster-hit northern Japan

Logs made from fallen trees, which will be used as wood pellets and other materials, are seen in Mukawa, Hokkaido, on Nov. 20. (Japan News-Yomiuri / Japan News-Yomiuri)
Logs made from fallen trees, which will be used as wood pellets and other materials, are seen in Mukawa, Hokkaido, on Nov. 20. (Japan News-Yomiuri / Japan News-Yomiuri)
Japan News-Yomiuri

SAPPORO, Japan – Three months have passed since a strong earthquake hit Hokkaido in early September. In disaster-affected areas, an increasing number of people are using large numbers of trees felled by landslides.

The central government, Hokkaido government, local forestry cooperatives and paper-manufacturing companies plan to cooperate with each other to use fallen trees, such as by making the shift to renewable energies by turning them into fuel for stove heaters and biomass power generation, as well as making paper and lumber from them.

Through such efforts, they aim to achieve eco-friendly reconstruction from the earthquake.

“There are no parts of a tree that can be throw away. We can use fallen trees as energy sources without wasting any parts,” Tatsuo Kobayashi, 46, an official at the Hobetsu processing center of the Tomakomai wide-area forestry cooperative in Mukawa, Hokkaido, said in late November, while looking at piles of logs.

In the Sept. 6 earthquake, large-scale landslides occurred in various parts of Hokkaido, mainly in Atsuma, which was hit by a quake measuring a maximum of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. The landslides caused damage to about 4,300 hectares of mountain trees, including trees that were felled.

Forests account for 70 percent of the total land area of Hokkaido, and there are many wood processing plants. In November, the Hokkaido government and the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry jointly called for local forestry cooperatives and paper makers to create a network for utilizing fallen trees, saying that they wanted to quickly remove and make effective use of them in order to promote forest road restoration and other reconstruction work.

Their basic plan is as follows:

Of the fallen trees, those in good condition will be processed into paper and lumber.

Others that cannot be used as they are will be processed into wood pellets or turned into wood chips for use as fuel in biomass power generation.

Wood pellets are usually produced by breaking down trees into small pieces and compressing them into cylindrical shapes using heat or other means. Without using adhesives or other materials, they are made entirely from the trees themselves. Commercial production of wood pellets started in North America in the 1970s in anticipation of their use in stove heaters and boilers.

At the Hobetsu processing center, logs made from felled trees such as larch trees will be processed into lumber. The sawdust generated in that process will be processed into wood pellets at a nearby plant.

According to the Forestry Agency, about 210,000 tons of wood pellets were used as energy in 2016 in Japan, up 34 percent from 2015.

The cost of a stove heater, including construction fees, can be 300,000 yen to 500,000 yen per unit. Some municipalities in Hokkaido have a subsidy program to spread the idea of “eco-friendly” stove heaters that use wood pellets.

“Wood pellets have traditionally been produced from surplus lumber. Since we have such a large number of fallen trees, I’m sure we will be able to increase their production. I hope they will attract more attention,” Kobayashi said.

Paper manufacturers putting effort into biomass power generation are also focused on fallen trees.

Oji Paper Co., a Tokyo-based paper-manufacturing company that has a power generation facility at its plant in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, has generated electricity using trees felled by typhoons as fuel, using the electricity for plant operations and also selling it on.

Another Tokyo-based paper maker, Nippon Paper Industries Co., plans to construct a power plant with an output of about 75,000 kilowatts to be operated only with wood fuel.

“We want to use everything we can use,” a company official in charge of the matter said.

The head of the Hokkaido government’s section for the forestry and lumber industry said: “We should not simply abandon fallen trees, but should have many people use them. We believe this will lead to the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas.”

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