Forestry & Wood Science
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Departmental Focus Areas

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As with any innovative research institution the Department of Forest and Wood Science balances its contribution to both basic and applied research. To deliver on this mandate the DFWS from time to time redefines its strategic focus in order to address areas of new development/research to address requirements of society into the future and to remain relevant as a research institution both locally and internationally. The DFWS remains committed to build on its inherent strength of providing research and development along to full value chain.  As such the following five research foci have been identified.

​Precision Forestry

Precision Forestry (PF) provides for additional, adequate quality information about forests and the manufacturing of forest products. It facilitates planning and site-specific forest management activities and forest operation activities  to improve wood product quality and utilization, to reduce waste, and increase profits. PF makes use of several key technologies such as GPS/GIS/RS , dealing with automatic data capture, including locating and navigation systems and thus addresses both, the use of geo-spatial-information to assist forest management , planning, and site-specific silvicultural  operations. The need for precision forestry is no longer a choice in managing forests and producing forest products. Driven by both the ever increasing scrutiny over the protection of forest resources, and the economic need to use forest products to the fullest, professional foresters and product managers are demanding quality detailed information about forests they manage and products they make.

Wood Quality from the Plant to the Product

Wood quality may be the most essential aspect of the value added chain of wood production, but also the one least understood. An optimization and effective management of the value added chain and its individual links is only possible with a sound knowledge of the factors influencing wood properties during tree growth , harvesting , storage, drying and processing  and also the quality determination process itself. This requires a holistic approach that attempts to link the single steps of production to understand their dependencies and identify crucial steps in the conversion chain that can be influenced by management. This includes modelling, simulation, novel methods of wood quality determination and mechanical, physical and chemical product performance testing  with the objective to understand and optimize chemical  and physical  wood properties throughout the value added chain of wood production. 

Green Buildings

Buildings are responsible for about 33% of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. The construction and use of buildings involves high energy consumption, environmental pollution and use of environmental resources. Faced with increased urbanization the development of future towns and cities will be a key to moving closer to environmental sustainability on earth. Wood has an important role to play as numerous studies showed that wood-based constructions display lower environmental impacts in terms of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, water pollution and solid waste production than traditional building systems. Apart from measuring the sustainability of building materials and processes through life cycle analysis, there is also a great need to develop new and improved building materials, including novel, low carbon footprint, wood inorganic and bio-based composites, as well as wood plastic composites from environmentally sustainable materials, such as wood.  

Resilient, sustainable Forests

Southern Africa has a complex biophysical and climatic environment, and superimposed on this are several perturbations, such as climate change, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), complex fire patterns, introductions of novel pests and diseases, and additional pressure from an increasing population that is undergoing extensive socio-political change. In this milieu, it is imperative to focus on sustainable management practices that render forests systems more resilient and risk averse. Forested landscapes should provide services such as employment and timber products, but also ecosystem services as diverse as carbon sequestration and recreational services. In a water scarce country, renewable forest products must come from forests with high water use efficiency, grown in a landscape with diversified land uses. Importantly, all forest management systems should preserve fundamental system components, such as soil conservation, nutrient cycling systems and biological diversity, to remain truly sustainable. Regardless of their deployment in natural or plantation forests, future foresters will have to design, manage and maintain resilient, sustainable forest systems.     


Forest enterprises, products and markets


"Wood is good" is an increasingly popular message amongst those concerned about our impact on the planet and future sustainability. It is seen as a sustainable bioenergy source, building material and ingredient in many industrial processes and products that can be sold to an ever increasing world population. New and innovative uses of wood allow the development of products and markets that did not exist 20 years ago, such as nano-cellulose, or other value added products obtained through Bio-refinery. Studies of the enterprise and product feasibility from a technical, operational and financial point of view form the core of this focus area. Research is not only focused on new wood based products, but also on the value chain linking these products to markets and the raw material supply chain to optimize production and profitability.