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Yarram – the timber town that’s proven efficiency and renewable energy work hand in hand

Location: Yarram, Victoria

Population: 45,639 (Wellington LGA, 2021 Census)

Yarram is a small town of around 2000 people, in a prosperous farming district with a history of timber harvesting and milling in the Shire of Wellington, just over 200km east of Melbourne, in Gippsland, Victoria. The region is facing major state-wide timber industry changes, and opportunities associated with Australia’s first Commonwealth declared offshore wind energy zones in Bass Strait.


Radial Timber is an Australian, privately owned timber business established 20 years ago. It operates a small mill with 22 local staff in Yarram, annually producing 12,000m3 of wood and supplying specialty products to the construction industry.  With a unique system of milling, it focuses on technology that maximises the use of a range of log sizes. Derived from Victorian hardwoods, product is distributed from an outlet in Dandenong South, in Melbourne’s south-eastern corridor.

The owner of Radial Timber, Chris McEvoy, has desired since 2016 to create a closed loop energy and waste system, minimising and reusing waste to reduce costs and maximise benefit including production of by-products.

From a business perspective, the motivation is not directly focussed on net zero, but more about an efficient integrated system that reduces waste through maximum timber gain and a reduction in time and costs associated with production. 


In 2019, the Latrobe Valley Authority (LVA) undertook an ‘entrepreneurial discovery process’ in Gippsland to find innovative energy projects as part of its responsibility to identify and support energy transition post the announcement of the closure of the Hazelwood Coal Mine by Engie in March 2017.

The LVA was able to use a different way of working to the ‘business as usual’ grant system for development that is often based on fixed grants with pre-set timelines and milestones. It provided seed funding (approximately $200,000 over two years) for innovation research through a ‘Bioenergy Innovation Network’, comprising of some 80 individuals representing community, industry, government and academia, researching and building significant levels of evidence on woody biomass availability, utilisation and suitable technologies for the region. 

Over time this built significant levels of evidence for progress as required and supported an emerging range of partners to determine and make collective decisions and actions regarding how to strategically support and enable the growth of the bioenergy sector, including supply chains, new products and markets.

After speaking with people and organisations in Yarram who indicated an interest in an opportunity for an energy park partnering with business, it was agreed to test a value proposition for actioning:

‘Could a circular economy energy park provide economic stimulus to the Yarram and district community through the use of solar, battery and pyrolysis technology in a timber mill setting?’ 

In 2021, with a well evidenced plan supported by strong partner and agency commitment including state government agents, the proposal successfully received $2m from the Victorian Forestry Plan Innovation Fund for the first stage of the project at Radial Timber.


Solar panels for power generation and batteries for energy storage are now installed at Radial Timber and a pyrolysis unit is being manufactured for installation on site.

Earth Systems, an Australian headquartered environmental sciences and engineering business has been commissioned to build the ‘Charmaker’ pyrolysis unit.  This technology converts a multitude of woody biomass types and waste biomass forms into a quality biochar with a very high fixed carbon content which can have many uses, including being a source of high-quality carbon capture, and producing high-grade heat through the process. 

Solar and batteries will reduce some of the power costs at the mill and reduce downtime from power outages. Brownouts and power outages in regional communities can cause regular machinery stoppages resulting in the need to reprogram machinery at a substantial cost. 

In addition, this system has the potential to radically reduce drying and curing time, resulting in less energy being used, a faster turnover of production, and use of a range of hard wood plantation species.


From a business owners’ perspective, learning about new technology systems like the circular economy, production of energy and other products from waste, is not enough. Government incentives and support for small to medium businesses to undertake practical action is generally not clear or necessarily helpful, especially when associated with a need to support community and local decisions. 

Fortunately, the LVA as a government agency has been able to demonstrate how to support and facilitate collaborative developmental partnerships over time.  Its identification and focus on strengths for future economic, social, and environmental benefit has meant a very different outcome to the ‘business as usual’ approach to financial support for small businesses, which often see rigid timelines, milestones and pre-determined activities and time-consuming reporting requirements imposed.

One of the challenges facing small businesses like Radial Timber has been the lack of information about trusted renewable energy and waste management technologies that de-risks investment in a fiscally tight, changing sector.  A common message identified is that the market is flooded with start-ups, new players advertising and pursuing businesses to invest in new technology products, which cannot easily be verified for value or quality.  This can lead to a delay of take up or experiences that damage confidence and further investment.

This case study is an excerpt from the Towards Net Zero: Transition Pathways for Regional Australia report, which was released in March 2024 under the Intergovernmental Shared Inquiry Program.

The report was funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Communications and the Arts; the Victorian Government Department of Jobs, Skills, Industry and Regions; the South Australian Government Department of Primary Industries and Regions; the Western Australian Government Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development; and the Queensland Government Department of Regional Development, Manufacturing and Water.

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