Year one in review: the journey of project FOREST 4.0

As we wrap up the first year of project FOREST 4.0, we’re excited to share a video highlighting our key moments and achievements. From innovative technology implementations to community-driven conservation efforts, it captures the essence of our mission to revolutionize the forestry sector sustainably. Join us in celebrating the dedication and progress of our team members and partners: Linnaeus University, Interior Cluster Sweden, Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas University of Technology, AgriFood Lithuania, and ART21. We look forward to continued advancements in the journey towards a more sustainable future for our forests!

AgriFood Forum 2023 reflection: panel discussion on “Forests at the forefront: data-driven climate resilience”

Last week, we returned from the AgriFood Forum 2023 in Vilnius—the largest event of its kind in the Baltics, bringing together political, business, and academic leaders from around the world. These leaders share a common goal: addressing the complex challenges facing the planet in the long term. Reflecting on the forum’s theme, “Peace for Food: Sustainability, Security for Society, and Planet”, a profound series of discussions unfolded, leaving an indelible mark on our commitment to sustainable practices and technological progress. We had the opportunity to present one of them.

CEO of the CoE Laimonas Butkus and FOREST 4.0 coordinator Prof. Dr. Tomas Krilavičius at the AgriFood Forum 2023

The powerful event commenced with a video capturing the forum’s organizers and their partners engaging in a tree-planting initiative. We concluded the day’s discussions symbolically with the theme “Forests at the Forefront: Data-Driven Climate Resilience”.

Sven Kallen, founder and secretary at Life Terra Foundation and CEO of Volterra Ecosystems, set the stage with insightful remarks elucidating the substantial impact of tree-planting actions. His emphasis on the indispensable role of innovative data management in forest monitoring, protection, and growth resonated cohesively with the main hall’s audience.

Apart from S. Kallen, the discussion moderated by Živilė Kropaitė-Basiulė was attended by esteemed panelists: Prof. Dr. Tomas Krilavičius, FOREST 4.0 coordinator and dean of the faculty of Informatics at Vytautas Magnus University, Dr. Algis Gaižutis, chairman of the board of the Lithuanian Forest and Landowners Association, and Ben Rivoire, head of Sustainability and Crop Value Chain at the International Seed Federation. These experts in their field conveyed invaluable insights and unwavering passion, propelling forum participants toward a more sustainable future.

In the aftermath of this enlightening discussion, the commitment of the project’s team to fostering positive change remains resolute. We are ready to strengthen efforts to comprehend, safeguard, and innovate for the benefit of a greener and progressive tomorrow! Your collaboration in any form in this journey is both welcomed and valued—why not consider planting a tree in your backyard?

FOREST 4.0 partners pursue their vision of the future forest by enhancing collaboration in Sweden

At the end of September, Forest 4.0 partners from Lithuania and Sweden came together to refine their plan to create a significant organization: a Centre of Excellence to help digitize forestry. The working session in Sweden emphasized the EU-wide importance of a technologically advanced and sustainable forest ecosystem. According to the experts, the good practices of a leading country in the field only confirm that cross-sectoral dialogue is the key to a new era of forestry innovation.

The meeting of representatives of Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas University of Technology, Linnaeus University (Sweden), Interior Cluster Sweden, AgriFood Lithuania DIH, and ART21 was held in the framework of the Möbelriksdagen, the country's largest annual event for the furniture and interior design industry. It allowed for an even closer partnership between academia and industry, forming the basis for the future Center of Excellence.

Björn Nordin, Director of Architecture and Design at Swedish Wood, a member of the Swedish cluster, presented trends in the furniture and interior design industry in the leading country in the forest sector. Among the highlights was Interior Cluster Sweden, which focused on the potential of the latest technologies to drive change in the global wood industry ecosystem.

“The pandemic and the war caused by Russia will continue to increase the challenges related to the lack of raw materials, including wood products. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to get the most out of every cubic meter of timber: in the forest, in the sawmill, and in other value chains.

Forest 4.0 demonstrates that opportunities exist, but it requires synergy across sectors and all value chains. We are ready for this because the forestry industry is not only facing the problems of exporting wood but also those of climate change and other issues. Together, we need to tackle them with all possible means, with digitization of the sector at the forefront”, B. Nordin said.

The researchers’ focus on high-tech solutions was echoed by Professor Arianit Kurti of Linnaeus University: “Artificial intelligence will definitely be one of the core competencies of the project. Its application to forestry and the whole Forest 4.0 value chain is one of the areas where we think the most innovation will be generated, and a number of start-ups are likely to emerge.”

The project, implemented by academics, clusters, and business stakeholders, was initiated with the aim of growing a center that will add economic value to the forestry sector and interested parties in the long term.

Prof. Dr. Tomas Krilavičius, Dean of the Faculty of Informatics of Vytautas Magnus University, who leads the project, shared the team’s plans to return from the meeting having learned the best practices from Sweden. After an intensive agenda, a different vision emerged: in Forest 4.0, we will work together with the Swedes to develop new forestry models for the whole of Europe.

“However, data collection and analysis, as well as the ambition to use this information in a meaningful way to deliver pragmatic innovations that support a sustainable ecosystem, are only a stop in a complex process. We first need to identify what specific answers we expect to improve forestry processes,” commented Prof. Dr. T. Krilavičius on the upcoming tasks and deliverables.

In addition to discussions on the future of the Centre of Excellence and the allocation of further responsibilities, the participants also benefited from study visits. This included a tour of the upcoming “Wisdome Stockholm” centre. The project is characterized by its innovative use of wood raw materials for a complex building structure, in line with its commitment to industrial sustainability.

The meeting with Treesearch served as another good example of how to push the boundaries of future forestry potential through the engagement of all stakeholders, from academia to private foundations and public authorities. The Treesearch platform at the Royal Technical University in Stockholm paves the ground for the development of new materials from forests and contributes to Sweden's ambition to become a leader in the bioeconomy.



Project FOREST 4.0 unveils a bold vision to revolutionize forest management

Sweden, September 25, 2023 — Project Forest 4.0, a visionary undertaking aimed at establishing a Center of Excellence (CoE) within a six-year timeframe, is set to redefine the landscape of forest environmental monitoring, data collection, and analysis. This ambitious initiative seeks to harness data to construct a sustainable forestry ecosystem for the benefit of both the environment and industry.

Taking place on September 27th and 28th, 2023, Project Forest 4.0 will convene a high-level meeting, bringing together partners from Lithuania and Sweden in Tibro. The meeting will be held in conjunction with Möbelriksdagen, the Swedish furniture and interior design industry's largest annual event. This unique gathering promises to catalyze a robust collaboration between academia and industry, underscoring the Forest 4.0 project's commitment to innovation and synergy.

Participants in the meeting will leverage their collective expertise to illuminate pivotal trends and insights within the furniture industry. Crucial topics on the agenda include discussions on governance and infrastructure, the strategic direction of the CoE, and the advancement of scientific excellence and educational initiatives, coupled with the implementation of innovative business models.

Laimonas Butkus, CEO of the CoE, emphasized the significance of partnerships, noting, "Collaboration between universities, clusters, and businesses will ensure that the forthcoming Center of Excellence delivers the highest caliber research, directly applicable to businesses, for the testing and integration of emerging technologies into novel business paradigms."

The business sector also recognizes the immense potential of this initiative, as the realm of forest technology remains underexplored. Innovative data collection and processing applications offer vast opportunities for the development of a sustainable bioeconomy firmly rooted in forests.

Project Forest 4.0 is led by a consortium of 6 esteemed partners: Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas University of Technology, Linnaeus University, Interior Cluster Sweden, AgriFood Lithuania, and Art21. The project has a budget of almost €20 million (€9.9 million from the European Commission and the same amount from Lithuania).

EC Policy Officer Dr. Karina Firkavičiūtė: FOREST 4.0 represents a significant stride for Lithuanian research and innovation

The forestry sector is pivotal in Lithuania’s economy and nature protection systems, necessitating innovation and technological advancement. Establishing a center of excellence in smart forestry within Lithuania marks a crucial move towards attracting investments, fostering business partnerships, exploring international opportunities, and driving economic growth. Dr. K. Firkavičiūtė believes, ‘Similar centers like FOREST 4.0 already exist in Germany, Sweden, and Finland. Collaborating with such partners, Lithuania can facilitate the smoother and more proactive development of innovations in this field, participate in research and innovation programs and discussions, and bolster itself economically.’

The Digitization of the Sector: A Key Indicator of Progress

Winning funding for FOREST 4.0 stands as one of Lithuania’s most noteworthy achievements in pursuit of the goal to enhance the added economic value of the forestry sector. Its significance is magnified by being the first successful initiative in Lithuania to establish a ‘Teaming for Excellence’ center, securing a substantial €20 million grant from the EU’s Horizon Europe program in collaboration with Lithuania.

The project’s objective is to cultivate a center of excellence focused on forestry and the digitalization of the circular economy. This endeavor is poised to tackle future challenges in forest management and contribute significantly to the advancement of sustainable and innovative forestry practices.

A representative from the EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation presented a crucial perspective on the project during the first meeting of FOREST 4.0 partners, highlighting its significance not only for Lithuania but also for Europe as a whole.

“The establishment of this center of excellence in Lithuania marks a significant leap in research and innovation. It stands as a great honor and, most importantly, as recognition that Lithuania is actively engaged in enhancing the forestry sector and promoting sustainable forest management. In essence, the country is showcasing its commitment and endeavors towards fostering a sustainable forestry sector and embracing innovative technologies,” stated K. Firkavičiūtė.

In the broader European context, as she said, the successful implementation of FOREST 4.0 has the potential to serve as a model for other nations and partners to follow suit by establishing or fortifying centers of excellence at the national level: “This collaborative effort contributes to the advancement of a unified European Research Area and the sustainable development of various sectors.”

The EU Program Bolsters Country’s Competitiveness

As per K. Firkavičiūtė, the EU actively fosters innovation, research, and technology advancement across Europe, including within the forestry sector. Among these initiatives, Horizon Europe stands out as the foremost program supporting FOREST 4.0.

This program equips stakeholders with tools to facilitate interdisciplinary and transnational collaboration and partnerships among researchers, businesses, and the public sector across various countries. The aim is to uncover innovative and effective solutions for intricate challenges, which EC policy official identifies as a primary focus of the EU Program.

“Horizon Europe stands as the primary funding mechanism for science and innovation within the EU. Securing funding through the ‘Teaming for Excellence’ initiative has afforded Lithuania the opportunity to engage in an international project and collaborate with top-tier European researchers and institutions in its chosen field. This endeavor significantly enhances the country’s scientific capabilities, cultivates an international network, attracts investments, and harnesses the potential of research and innovation,” claimed K. Firkavičiūtė.

In Lithuania, the project has taken root in the incredibly promising ground, bolstered by a dedicated effort to fortify research, innovative solutions, and entrepreneurial culture within the forestry sector.

“Through active participation in Horizon Europe, the national institutions are showcasing their dedication to constructing an innovative, knowledge-driven economy that holds its own in the global arena. FOREST 4.0 possesses the substantial potential to synergize research, technological innovation, and business opportunities, ultimately propelling the forestry sector’s growth and optimizing outcomes,” said the EC policy official.

Summarizing her insights on FOREST 4.0 and Horizon Europe, K. Firkavičiūtė highlighted the overarching vision for both Lithuania and Europe in the realm of research and innovation.

“Europe is in perpetual pursuit of fortifying research, directing substantial attention and funding toward bolstering the competence, skills, collaboration, and capabilities of its scientific institutions and individuals. The ‘Teaming for Excellence’ initiative is specifically designed to amplify these capacities through the establishment of novel or revitalized research centers,” she said.

These centers, as K. Firkavičiūtė explained, are envisioned to not only catalyze advancements in specific scientific domains but also to catalyze enhancements in administrative quality, legal frameworks, and management practices within a nation. Additionally, these centers are expected to foster heightened collaboration with the public sector.

“Consequently, the Lithuanian forestry sector finds itself presented with an expansive range of opportunities, but concurrently, it bears the responsibility to evolve, expand, and refine its operations, thereby fostering transformative change throughout Lithuania,” stated K. Firkavičiūtė.

The EC’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation conducts its activities in collaboration with EU institutions, Member States, and other stakeholders across the realms of science, technology, and innovation. Lithuania actively monitors, analyzes, and shapes its position at the European level in these domains, aspiring not only to align with the most advanced nations but also to position itself as one of them.