SAPPORO >> Five months have passed since a strong earthquake hit Hokkaido in early September. In disaster-affected areas, an increasing number of people are finding uses for the large number of trees felled by landslides.
The central government, Hokkaido government, local forestry cooperatives and paper-manufacturing companies are developing plans to use the fallen trees, such as turning them into fuel for stove heaters and biomass power generation, or making paper and cutting them into lumber.
Through such efforts, they aim to achieve eco-friendly reconstruction from the earthquake.
“There are no parts of a tree that can be thrown 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 November, while looking at piles of logs.
In the Sept. 6 earthquake, large-scale landslides occurred in parts of Hokkaido, mainly in Atsuma, which was hit by a quake measuring 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. The landslides caused damage to about 10,660 acres of mountain trees.
Forests account for 70 percent of the 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 they wanted to quickly remove and make effective use of them in order to promote forest road restoration and other reconstruction work.
The plan they developed is:
>> Process fallen trees in good condition into paper and lumber.
>> Damaged trees can be converted into wood pellets or 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 wood. Commercial production of wood pellets started in North America in the 1970s in anticipation of their use in stove heaters and boilers.
The Hobetsu processing center has already begun the process of cutting felled larch trees into lumber. The sawdust generated 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.
“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 are also focused on fallen trees for biomass power generation.
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. The electricity is used for plant operations and surplus energy is sold.
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.”