A mobile distillery extracts pine oil from wilding pines and forestry prunings
Otago based forestry contractors Paul Greaves and son Jared, operating as ForestPlus, have branched out into distilling oils from Douglas fir and other conifer species, using a trailer-transportable four-chamber steam and vacuum still built to order in Mosgiel from Paul’s design, producing drums of oil exported to the United States for the doTERRA essential oils group. Portability of the still is important to keep transport costs down and operating efficiency high. It can be relocated to a new centre of raw material, requiring only good access, a water supply, a roof and electricity or generator. ForestPlus combines silviculture with oil production.
Paul Greaves had a working lifetime in the forest industry throughout the South Island, working for NZ Forest Service and then Wenita in Otago, in all aspects of the business -practical, business and science. In 2012 he had a brain stem stroke and was forced into a long recuperation. He met Michael Sly, co-partner in Wilding & Co, who had imported a still from the USA to tackle wilding pines in the Wakatipu Basin around Queenstown. Paul had looked into such a sideline venture for forest owners and operators a few years earlier with his brother Ken, but had not proceeded.
While he recuperated, he designed a bigger steam and vacuum distillation plant that would be portable. A Mosgiel engineering company built a two-pot pilot and then a four-pot prototype, now based at Beaumont. The pilot was financed by the Greaves family and Steve Johnson, the prototype by ForestPlus and Wilding & Co. It now runs on 4 x 31kW diesel burners that produce three to four times more heat BTU’s than the natural gas used in the pilot still. Bags of chip are placed in the condenser chambers, steam is passed from the retorts below, and the steam passing through the bags which picks up the oil is then condensed. The oil and hot water is taken off into essencers, where the oil is separated and the water returned to a reflux chamber. Because the whole system works under vacuum pressure, water boils around 80deg C, which is kinder on the essential oil.
ForestPlus employs 16 people and the oils division is run by Paul, Jared and partner Steve Johnson, a forestry silvicultural contractor.
Douglas fir sources include plantation thinning, limb removal, and wilding pines. ForestPlus takes overhanging branches from forest tracks, by permission from the forest owners like Earnslaw One and P.F. Olsen. There is no cost to ForestPlus because opening up the tracks is a service to forest companies. If they have to move into Douglas fir stands for thinning and clearing, ForestPlus can charge the forest owners. All tree material is chipped on site before transporting to the still in large bags weighing 75-95kg. Wilding trees would not produce the volume of tree material needed to run the still at the required rate, because of scattered localities, labour and transport needs, so plantation trimming is preferred at this stage of business development.
Paul is keen to hear from farmers with Douglas fir stands, who might have branches coming over fences, or thinning needs, within about a 35km radius of Beaumont. Three days of field work provides enough material to run the still for five days.
Each pot in the still takes 150-170kg of chip material and ForestPlus aims to do eight loads a day, each taking two hours. Including downtime, the still is working 16-20 hours a day.
Yields of oil vary considerably with changes in provenance and location of Douglas fir source material.
Douglas fir comes from western North America, from British Columbia down to California, and the oil content of the needles varies according to place of origin. Paul says his yields can vary between 0.25% and 0.5% by weight of processed material, and daily production from seven to 13 litres, but it has been as high as 27 litres.
He would like to identify the clones and sources with greatest oil contents and make special purpose plantings for the future.
ForestPlus Oils sells Douglas fir oil to New Zealand Essential Oil company, based in Queenstown, to fill a contract with Utah-based DoTERRA, the world’s largest essential oil reseller, and sends oil in drums to the United States every two weeks. Total exports were 3000kg in the past year.
DoTERRA is a multi-level marketing company like Avon cosmetics or Tupperware, and now has three million “wellness advocates” as salespeople around the world.
New Zealand Douglas fir oil was launched to 40,000 delegates and an online audience of two million at a convention in Salt Lake City in September 2015. It is the best quality Douglas fir oil available and is used in aromatherapy for clearing airways and also topically for skin cleaning.