A sustainable partner in Brazil

How wood fibre left over from the leather industry helps power UK homes.

Brazil has one of the most famously diverse ecologies in the world. Given its incredible size, this means each corner of the country is markedly different to one another.

The state of Rio Grande do Sul, located at the southern tip of the country, is a region characterised by ‘pampas’ grassland – a far cry from the dense rainforest found nearly 2,500 km away to the north.

It is also home to a company supplying wood fibre used to make sustainable biomass wood pellets. Although TANAC may be a relatively new entrant to the wood pellet industry, it has a long legacy of responsible commercial forestry.

A century of sustainable forestry

Acacia mearnsii trees were first planted in Rio Grande do Sul more than a century ago. A fast-growing species native to Australia, it was cultivated in Brazil for its bark, which is used in the tanning process of leather production as well as for the use in water and wastewater treatment and wood adhesives manufacturing. TANAC was established in the area in 1948 to do just this – grow acacia trees, harvest the bark and produce tanning products. In fact, the name TANAC is an acronym for ‘TANnin of Acacia’.

Young growth in an Acacia nursery

The wood fibre left over was traditionally thought of as a by-product and used for firewood and charcoal manufacturing, but with the increasing demand of the pulp and paper industry in the mid-90s, the company invested in a wood chip mill and began exporting pulp chips. Over the decade that followed, technology began to replace demand for newsprint and other wood products in North America and Europe. TANAC needed to maintain stable routes to market and so another use for this fibre emerged: creating compressed wood pellets to satisfy rising demand for bioenergy. Some of these pellets are now set to be used at Drax Power Station in Yorkshire.

The long-term agreement announced in 2014 to supply these pellets means stability and security for the business in Rio Grande do Sul. “TANAC’s $60m investment has made this agreement possible,” commented Otavio Decusati, Chief Executive of TANAC. “Partnering with Drax strengthens our operations – it creates jobs, directly and indirectly, within the forestry supply chain, forest management and industrial operations sectors.” It provides Drax with a varied supply from a highly credible and sustainable partner for the next 10 years.

TANAC wood pellet mill

Sustainability first

Brazil has a rigorous process for maintaining its environmentally valuable and ecologically diverse areas. For instance, in Rio Grande do Sul, the State Council for the Environment (CONSEMA) requires forest owners to obtain a forest licence and identify which areas are suitable to be used for plantations (also known as working forests), and which will be natural reserves and protected bio-diverse areas that remain untouched by commercial operations.

TANAC has achieved ISO certifications for quality and environmental management systems, and its plantations are certified by the FSC® Forest Management, so preserved areas of Brazilian natural heritage stay that way. “Ever since TANAC was founded in the 40s through to our FSC® certification in 2004 and beyond, we work to ensure that there is a balance between our use of natural resources and the preservation of the environment we live in,” said Decusati.

Wild cats (Leopardus guttulus) in an Acacia plantation

But what practical measures do these regulations require of foresters? They legally require forest owners to turn over 20% of their total holdings to natural reserve areas – which should include any areas identified as sensitive or natural forest areas. Nor can these just be lone islands of biodiversity – the regulations require there are habitat corridors linking together reserve areas, allowing wildlife to move from one area to another.

On top of this, TANAC works with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a long-term project called the ‘Forest management, conservation and restoration in the Atlantic Rainforest biome’. The project aims to conserve local biodiversity and promote sustainable use of natural rainforest resources.

As part of its deal with Drax, the company will bolster these sustainability credentials. It will undergo an independent carbon stock assessment every two years to ensure carbon stocks are being properly maintained.

It’s been nearly seven decades since TANAC first set up shop in Brazil and much has changed. But while supplying renewable fuel to the UK may be a far cry from the leather industry, it still relies on the same core product: responsibly-grown forests.