Stories | 12.11.2020
A new source of azobé has opened in Gabon. Mike Jeffree reports.
The new sawmill just brought on stream by Precious Wood’s Gabon subsidiary CEB boosts capacity at its Bambidie site and equips it to meet rising international demand for heavy-duty tropical hardwood. It’s also the outcome of the company’s sustainable management strategy and policy of developing production in line with timber the forest renewably provides.
In its 600,000 ha joint FSC and PEFC-certified Gabon forest concession, Precious Woods operates to a 25-year harvest cycle and works zones within different management regions for five years. For the next five it will be harvesting an area near the city of Okondja, which has a very high density of azobé. The new mill has been built and equipped to process the resulting timber. “From the technical viewpoint it can handle other species as well, but for the time being it will mostly process azobé due to the significant supply from this area,” said Precious Woods forest industries technical consultant Markus Pfannkuch.
The project started with an inventory of the new harvest zone, conducted with local forestry officials. Azobé, which grows up to 60m tall and 1.5m in diameter, is not common across all Precious Wood’s concession, but forms dense populations in areas it’s suited to. The inventory found that the Okondja site is one of them. A subsequent feasibility study assessed the volumes of timber that would be available, operating under Precious Wood’s sustainable forest management regime and extracting only trees of 90 cm diameter and above. Based on this, the company decided to commission the mill.
As part of the development programme, the company has also set up a partnership with Netherlands-based timber importer, processor and tropical timber construction specialist Wijma Kampen. The Dutch operation will take all the output from the new mill, process the timber and market it across the European civil engineering and wider construction markets. Attracted to partner with Precious Woods by its reputation in sustainable forest management and its dual certification, Wijma also advised on the planning and construction of the facility and the technology required.
The plant took 1.5 years to complete and has capacity to produce 17,000 m3 of sawn timber a year. It’s adjacent to Bambidie’s two existing mills, one of which focuses on okoumé, the other various species, except azobé, and takes the roundwood processing capacity of the whole site to 165,000 m3. “The new operation employs 87 people working in two shifts and the machinery includes four band saws and two edgers, all geared to produce large dimension material in length, width and thickness, and there is also a recovery line for processing wood residues,” said Mr Pfannkuch. “It is not yet at full capacity, but the test phase has been finished and regular production started in July.” Construction of the mill also forms part of a development programme for the wider Bambidie site. This includes a kilning upgrade and storage expansion. New housing has also been built to accommodate the increased workforce.
All output is dual FSC and PEFC chain of custody certified, automatically coming under the scope of the CEB’s existing certification, which was renewed in June 2020. Precious Woods also notes that the ultra-durable timber from the new mill is a renewable substitute for energy intensive steel and concrete and will be used in ‘high-quality, long-lasting applications’. So its use, as well as its production, will be all about sustainability.