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Large scale automated forest tree breeding in Sweden

Södra is investing in large-scale and automated forest tree breeding through an innovative technologies company, SweTree Technologies. SEK 50 million will be invested in a pilot facility in Umeå. Stora Enso, Sveaskog and Holmen are co-funding the project. Source: Timberbiz

“We are hoping for a technological leap that will enable fast and efficient seedling production from the best tree breeding material in Sweden. This is a gratifying and solution-oriented climate investment by the forest industry,” said Göran Örlander, forestry strategist at Södra and chair of the project’s steering committee.

SweTree Technologies has been developing a technology for automated seedling production based on somatic embryogenesis for several years.

SweTree Technologies has developed a technology for automated production of forest plants based on somatic embryogenesis. With this technology leap, it is possible to quickly and efficiently produce more plants originating from the best forest breeding material.

This is favourable for the forest economy and for the bioeconomy, but also for the environment since the trees grow faster and capture more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere thus allowing more fossil products to be replaced with renewable raw material. It will also enable development of qualitative properties of the trees, such as resistance to diseases and pests.

“We have now started the design of the pilot plant. It will be built in close proximity to SweTree Technologies’ existing premises in Umea, Sweden, and completed within a year. The following year, it is envisaged that the pilot plant will run and be used to verify the technology. The goal of the pilot plant is to get a decision basis for a first full-scale commercial plant with capacity of 20 million spruce plants per year,” Christofer Rhén, CEO of SweTree Technologies said.

In addition to the positive climate effects, since faster growth increases CO₂ uptake, it is possible to develop the qualitative characteristics of trees to improve their resilience to diseases and pests. This will also be more profitable for forest owners in terms of time and quality. The facility is scheduled for completion within one year.

The investment is in line with Södra’s sustainability target of a 20% higher rate of annual forest growth in 2050 compared with 2015.

“Forest growth and production issues are of central importance if we want to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and energy by increasing the use of wood and renewable products. That’s why this investment is a step in the right direction,” Mr Örlander said.