Thin trees to meet power pole demand
SMALL, thin trees that are usually removed from forest plantations to make way for larger trees could help meet the growing demand for power poles, street lighting and signage posts.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is seeking commercial partners interested in producing power poles made from these plantation "thinnings" as an alternative to the traditional, declining source of hardwood power poles from native forests.
Dr Henri Bailleres from DAFF said there were more than five million timber power poles in use in Australia.
"As the power network expands, we need more new poles and replacements for old poles that have stood for up to 60 years," he said.
"In Queensland, several hardwood species growing in plantations with great strength and durability would be suitable for use as utility poles, even at a very young age. DAFF forestry scientists have developed a new pole system that uses these young hardwood plantation thinnings
"The thinnings, which would otherwise be wasted, can be combined to make power poles just as strong and long-lasting as single trunk poles."
Dr Bailleres said the hybrid utility pole's design consisted of a central steel spike in the ground to which three to four thin hardwood stems are bolted to the above ground part of the spike.
"This simple design is just as strong as a traditional pole made from a single, large-diameter tree," he said.
"This system could not only meet the demand for power poles, but also significantly boost the profitability of hardwood plantations by generating revenue early in the life cycle."
The next step in development was to bring companies on board to test the idea.