By Save the Rainforest e.V.
We must quickly switch our supply to renewable energies – and above all consume much less energy and raw materials. Wind turbines are an important part of the energy transition. However, the rotors often contain large amounts of tropical balsa wood. In Ecuador, the rainforests are being plundered for this purpose.
To: Siemens Gamesa, General Electric, LM Wind Power, Vestas, Nordex, Enercon
“The wind power industry must disclose its supply chains for balsa wood and must not use balsa from rainforest clearance”
The expansion of wind power in China, Europe and North America has triggered a balsa drama in Ecuador. Up to 90% of the balsa wood traded worldwide comes from Ecuador.
They also do not stop at indigenous territories and state protected areas and cause serious social conflicts there.
For nature, the impact of balsa is devastating. The tree species performs important ecological functions and protects the river banks where it often grows from erosion.
The world’s largest consumer of Balsa is Siemens Gamesa. The german-Spanish wind power group consumed almost 26,000 tons of balsa wood in 2021 (equivalent to about 170,000 m³).
The three 81 m long rotor blades of offshore wind turbines from Siemens Gamesa contain a total of almost 6 t of balsa (approx. 40 m3). This corresponds to about 40 trees. The wood is firmly bonded in the wings with plastics such as PET and PVC as well as glass fibers and epoxy resins.
Other wind turbine manufacturers also use balsa, but in smaller quantities: Nordex used around 9,000 m³ in 2021 and Vestas 2,500 m³.
LM Wind Power, a subsidiary of the US multinational General Electric, uses balsa in 5% of its rotors. The company itself and the German company Enercon have not responded to the requests of Save the Rainforest.
The companies refer to balsa of the Swiss group of companies 3A Composites, the only global operator of FSC-certified balsa plantations. However, the global balsa consumption of the wind power industry is much higher than the quantities produced by 3A Composites. In particular, the information provided by Siemens Gamesa raises great doubts.
Balsa’s supply chains must be made transparent and verifiable.Backgrounds
The Swiss group of companies 3A Composites, the world’s only supplier of FSC-certified balsa wood products, has produced a good 120,000 m³ of raw balsa sawn timber on its plantations (subsidiary Plantabal SA) in Ecuador between 2019 and 2021.i. The company does not specify how many cubic meters of finished balsa products were produced and delivered from it. In addition to the wind power industry, 3A-Composites also supplies balsa products to the construction industry as well as vehicle, railway, aircraft and shipbuilding.
The Ecuadorian central bank estimates the Balsa exports of the South American country in 2019 at a total of 33,000 t (equivalent to about 220,000 m³). In 2020 it was almost 75,000 t (approx. 500,000 m³) and in 2021 a good 22,000 t (approx. 150,000 m³)Ii.
According to the Sustainability Report, Siemens Gamesa even consumed 53,052 tons of balsa in 2019 (equivalent to about 350,000 m³).Iii. Apparently, the Group cannot rule out the possibility that balsa wood from unsustainable or questionable sources may enter the supply chain. At least the information provided by Siemens Gamesa in the Sustainability Report sounds rather vague. Here’s what Siemens Gamesa writes about Balsa:
“In general, we can confirm that it is not a vulnerable resource and that there are no systematic human rights violations. Our goal is to buy balsa wood that comes from responsible sources to combat illegal logging, which is one of the main causes of deforestation.”
In addition, there are statements that are supposed to justify the consumption of balsa, but are wrong from practical experience and scientific point of view:
“Balsa wood is a fast-growing raw material that can be easily grown without fertilizers or other additional resources. Therefore, it can be grown sustainably. Balsa wood is a weed tree where it is native and has a relatively short lifespan. Sometimes he sows himself in unfavorable places.”
The fact is: Large quantities of mineral fertilizers and pesticides are applied to the balsa plantations of the subsidiary Plantabal SA of 3A-Composites in Ecuador. According to FSC certification reports, in 2021 alone there were 13,650 liters of glyphosate on 5,529 ha of herbicides and 507 liters of the product “Verdict” on 504 haIv. The sprays serve to eliminate all other plant growth on the surfaces. In addition, insecticides and snail poisons are also sprayed on the balsa plantationsv.
Also, the claim that balsa is a weed tree is simply false and lacks any scientific basis. Balsa trees have very important ecological functions in the tropical rainforests of Latin America: the fast-growing pioneer tree species quickly colonizes clearings and open spaces. Balsa trees thus initiate the first phase of natural renewal and pave the way for tree species in later phases of succession, which germinate and grow up in their shade. Balsa trees thus fulfil important functions for the natural regeneration of rainforests.
For more information:
– Badia I Dalmases, F. (2021) in El Pais. How the wind power boom is driving deforestation in the Amazon:https://english.elpais.com/usa/2021-11-26/how-the-wind-power-boom-is-driving-deforestation-in-the-amazon.html
– Badia I Dalmases, F. (2021) in Open Democracy. A green paradox: Deforesting the Amazon for wind energy in the Global North:https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/deforesting-the-amazon-for-wind-energy-in-the-global-north-a-green-paradox/
– InSight Crime (2021). Timber Mafias at Ecuador’s Borders Cash in on Balsa Boom: https://insightcrime.org/news/timber-mafias-ecuadors-borders-cash-in-balsa-boom/
– Connectas (2021). De la selva a la China: La fiebre balsera que pagó 22 centavos de dólar por árbol: https://www.connectas.org/especiales/de-la-selva-a-la-china/
– Bravo, E. (ed), Acción Ecológica, (2021). LA BALSA SE VA. ENERGÍAS RENOVABLES, SELVAS VACIADAS. Expansión de la energía eólica en China y la tala de balsa en el Ecuador: https://www.accionecologica.org/wp-content/uploads/LA-BALSA-SE-VA.pdf
– Geo (without date). Nectar for the night shift: https://www.geo.de/natur/tierwelt/tieftaucher_30073658-30168962.html and Geo (without date). Follow-up from the nectar night shift. Additional pictures of the nocturnal visitors of the balsa tree: https://www.geo.de/info/nachschlag-von-der-nektar-nachtschicht-30168976.html
– National Geographic (2011). Open All Night: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/panama-ochroma
i 3A Composites/Schweiter Technologies, Annual Reports 2019, 2020, 2021: https://www.schweiter.ch/s1a200/investoren/geschaftsberichte-prasentationen.html?L=3
Balsa wood (“green sawn timber”) produced by Plantabal: 2021:124,774 m3; 2020: 123,818 m3; 2019: 122,952 m3
Ii Banco Central del Ecuador (generated on 20.4.2022). 08. Export. por Producto Pricipal (nivel 4): https://www.bce.fin.ec/index.php/informacioneconomica/sector-externo
Iii Siemens-Gamesa (2022). Consolidated Non-Financial Statement 2021, page 73, table 34: https://www.siemensgamesa.com/en-int/-/media/siemensgamesa/downloads/en/sustainability/siemens-gamesa-consolidated-non-financial-statement-2021-en.pdf
Iv NEPCON/Preferred by Nature (2021). Informe de Certificación de Manejo Forestal de Segunda Auditoría Plantaciones de Balsa S.A. en Los Ríos, Quevedo, Ecuador, page 21, H. Pesticide use: https://fsc.secure.force.com/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=00P4y00001ZSopoEAD
v NEPCON/Preferred by Nature (23.2.2021). Informe de Certificación de la Manejo Forestal de auditoría anual Plantaciones de Balsa S.A. en Los Ríos, Quevedo, Ecuador, page 22, J. Pesticide use: https://fsc.secure.force.com/servlet/servlet.FileDownload?file=00P4y000017sL3IEAU