TENS of thousands of tons of timber are being shipped to bioenergy factories across Europe by a Belgian recycling business behind the push to turn wood into a renewable energy source. Geert Maes, a trader of forestry biomass, has so far cleared 35,000 tonnes of wood from a forest in the south of France, which was almost entirely flattened by a violent storm. About 25,000 tonnes of the wood has been sent to companies in Germany, Sweden, Portugal and Belgium to be recycled - and there is much more to come. "Initially, the wood was going to be used to make other things, but now the quality is not so good so the best thing is to turn it into biomass," says Nadine Logge, co-owner of Geert Maes.
When its fiercest storm in a decade struck the south of France in January this year, huge areas of trees were flattened in one of the country's largest national parks, the Landes de Gascogne Regional Nature Park, southwest of Bordeaux. Rooves were torn off buildings and over 20 people were killed in various incidents across south-western France and northern Spain when torrential rains and hurricane-force winds of up to 184km/h blew in from the Atlantic. The 300,000ha forest is owned by private landholders and several companies - many of which have commissioned Geert Maes to clear the damaged trees and have the wood recycled. Clearing started in May this year and is likely to continue for another three or four years judging by the severity of the damage and difficult operating conditions such as steep slopes, mud and snow.
Machine reliability is key
In order to handle such a demanding job safely and efficiently, Geert Maes ordered three specialised Volvo machines from Volvo Construction Equipment Belgium. The first is the new EC290C crawler excavator, which boasts higher machine performance and greater operator comfort; second is the FC2121C tracked forestry carrier, a specialist machine designed to work in a wide field of forestry applications thanks to its many attachments; and finally, the FC2421C tracked forestry carrier, which is built to tackle rugged terrain and endure heavy lifting. The machines work every day for eight to 10 hours at the site. "We can't afford machines to break down when we're using them every day, which is why we chose Volvo," says Nadine. "We have used Volvo for the past 15 years because they build machines strong, and that's what we need. If there is a problem, we can always call someone at our local dealer, but we haven't had to worry."
Wood - the new biofuel
With world energy consumption increasing, greater demand is being placed on the globe's natural resources and actions to increase energy efficiency and utilize renewable energy sources have become crucial. Bioenergy is one form of renewable energy that provides an alternative to environmentally harmful fossil fuels by creating electricity, heat, and fuel from plant or animal materials. These materials, called biomass, come from renewable sources that are produced and can be replaced more quickly than fossil fuels - like wood. Bioenergy from wood has a far smaller impact on climate change compared to fossil fuels because the carbon dioxide emitted when wood-based products are used for bioenergy is reabsorbed by new tree growth. As a result, the emerging wood- to-energy market is developing rapidly. Scores of new wood bioenergy plants have been announced in Europe and North America, and as industrialized nations push alternative energy agendas, new technology and exciting possibilities are emerging, which is good news for Geert Maes.
Leading the way
Nadine and her husband, Geert, founded Geert Maes almost 20 years ago, initially offering agricultural and utility contracting services. The company has grown significantly over the past decade and now specializes in the trading of forestry biomass - clearing large areas of woodland and chipping and shredding deciduous and coniferous trees. "We make a shredded product of wood, waste, tires and plastic using shredders, cranes and wheel loaders," says Nadine. With their catchword 'Big in reducing', Nadine and Geert established markets in the Benelux countries and France. In 2006, the family-run business changed into a private limited company, which today employs 15 staff and is a key player in the wood bioenergy industry.
Text: Elizabeth Tilley