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A country that’s green in more ways than one

Photograph by National Geographic

Deep in discussion

Christian Rakos, president of the European Pellet Council, discusses sustainable forestry with National Geographic explorer Dr Leslie Dewan. By strictly monitoring and regulating the number of trees harvested, Austrians cut far less wood than is re-growing each year. And as it’s nearly impossible to develop wooded land, Austria’s forests are staying forests.

Photograph by National Geographic

The rolling green hills of Innsbruck

With a coverage of just over 47 percent, Austria’s landscape is flocked with forest. Preserving these trees is in everyone’s interest as sustainable forestry could generate more jobs for a population that’s nearly nine million strong. Adding value to harvested wood by turning it into products like construction materials, consumer products and biofuel will likely be key to growing the industry.

Photograph by National Geographic

Leslie marvels at the scale of possibility for wood

Managed correctly, timber could be an inexhaustible supply for construction and energy that emits much less carbon than materials like steel, concrete and fossil fuels. Even the carbon that is produced is reabsorbed by the rest of the forests ­– which are actually increasing in size thanks to careful regulation.

Photograph by National Geographic

Waste not, want not

It’s a zero-waste approach that makes Austria’s system so efficient. Logs come in for processing at the Binderholz plant, where they’re stripped of their bark and cut into planks. But the offcuts, bark and even the sawdust created from cutting is collected and made into biofuel for use all over the country.

Photograph by National Geographic

Pellet power

Wood pellets are a common way of creating heat and power across Europe, but it’s how these pellets are sourced that makes them so sustainable. Made from the condensed sawdust, these pellets release the same amount of Co2 when burned as if the material were left to break down naturally on the forest floor.

Photograph by National Geographic

In the belly of the biomass plant

The bark that’s stripped from logs fuels a 1,913-degree furnace – helping to generate clean heat and electricity for the surrounding community. Methods like this could help ease our reliance on burning fossil fuels in the coming decades – a practice that currently throws 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Photograph by National Geographic

In balance with nature

Everything happening at the Binderholz plant represents just how harmonious our relationship with the planet can be. In taking a measured amount from the forests, Austria is securing the future of its trees – ensuring that generations down the line will benefit from both their beauty and their versatility.

Photograph by National Geographic

A marathon, not a sprint

What’s so effective about electricity created from biomass? Its efficiency. Everything is harvested to create energy. There’s no waste, and that’s key in making new technology a viable option going forward, especially for alternative automotive. More electric vehicles are using innovative ways to extend their range without impacting the planet – the Audi e-tron, for example, recoups energy that’s lost through breaking and uses it to recharge its batteries.

Photograph by National Geographic

From patient to partner

Left paralyzed after a mountain bike accident, engineer Sebastian Tobler wanted to continue his lifelong hobby of riding. After designing specialised tricycles that allow the legs to be moved by the arms for an authentic feeling of cycling, Sebastian became a patient of STIMO (Stimulation Movement Overground): a therapy that infuses electricity into his spine to help him walk again. Now he’s gone from patient to partner, working with the institute to incorporate the STIMO system into his designs.

Photograph by National Geographic

Design thinking

From the first prototype (far right) to the latest model (far left) – four generations of Trike built by Sebastian and his team at mobility start-up Go By Yourself. Unable to exert himself too heavily, Sebastian still wanted to traverse multiple terrains and inclines, and so began designing an electric motor system that lets the rider choose between levels of assistance while cycling. Now that the word is out, trike orders are coming in.

Further information on official fuel consumption figures and the official specific CO~2~ emissions of new passenger cars can be found in the EU guide "Information on the fuel consumption, CO~2~ emissions and energy consumption of new cars," which is available free of charge at all sales dealerships, from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Strasse 1, D-73760 Ostfildern, Germany and at www.dat.de.

Photograph by National Geographic