Why can paulownia help alleviate future tensions over wood resources?

Paulownia has the potential to increase wood production in France

4/22/20243 min read

Wood is likely to become a strategic resource in the years to come. Here are the reasons why:

Increasing demand for wood

The quantity of hydrocarbons available will diminish in the coming years, with peak oil having passed in 2018. This is all the more true, and will happen rapidly, for countries that are not producers.

As wood and biomass in general are the only other source of carbon (remember that oil is nothing other than biomass that has undergone “natural refining” for a few million years), they will be increasingly in demand both for the energy they contain, but also and above all as materials, particularly in construction. When unburned, wood acts as a carbon sink until it is degraded.

It's also a necessity when you consider that the production of 1 m3 of concrete emits 471 kg of CO2, while the use of 1 m3 of solid paulownia wood will store around 500 kg of CO2.

Whether due to regulatory guidelines or necessity, the use of biomass is set to increase in the more or less short term.

Climate change puts pressure on resources

At the same time, climate change is increasing the pressure on the resource; some forest species are suffering the combined effects of heat stress (exceeding the biological limits of certain species), water stress and externalities induced by rising temperatures; we can think here of the bark beetle crisis or fires, the intensity of which is always linked to temperatures.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on oceans and the cryosphere, published in 2019, indicated that up to 30% of tree species could be threatened with extinction if average global temperatures rise by 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. At a warming of 2°C, this percentage could increase to around 50%.

What are the advantages of paulownia in the face of this problem?

A high rate of growth, enabling wood to be produced both more quickly and at a lower cost than endemic forests.

Short growth cycles: paulownia is harvested in less than 10 years, creating a ratchet effect on carbon sequestration and reducing exposure to fire and insects.

Intrinsic resistance to high temperatures, drought and high regeneration capacity.

High sequestration density (30 to 40tC02 per hectare, when the average for French forests is around 5tCO2 per hectare).

Low water consumption. Paulownias optimize water consumption to produce their biomass thanks to a type of photosynthesis known as CAM (crasulean acid mechanism). For the same mass, they consume half as much water as poplars (around 3 times less for the same volume).

Paulownia wood is lightweight, which means less energy is needed for transport; it can be easily processed for technical applications requiring stability and strength; and it is highly tolerant of humidity and external damage.

Paulownia plantations do not replace endemic forests, but rather support them.

La culture du paulownia à la capacité à répondre aux besoins en bois d'œuvre tout en rendant des services écosystémiques avec une grande efficacité. C'est pourquoi c'est à notre sens un des outils indispensables de la transition énergétique

Cultivating paulownia is a highly efficient way of meeting timber needs while at the same time providing ecosystem services. That's why, in our opinion, it's one of the essential tools in the energy transition.