Blockchain and IoT sensors for fuelwood

Throughout history, trees have been among man’s most important companions, providing shelter, food, material, and fuel. In particular, the latter has transformed the human trajectory like nothing before. It was only through the use of fire that we were able to cook our food, extracting more nutrients from it.

From a culinary point of view it is very important to know where a piece of fuelwood comes from and how it was prepared; then follows the extreme importance of the issue of sustainability: does the tree come from a sustainably managed forest? Finally, the issue of logistics and transportation is increasingly in the spotlight: how far has the wood traveled?

Together they send a clear message: wood traceability is key!Fortunately, this is already a common practice in the wood and forestry industry. Traditionally, this is accomplished through identification and infotracing systems, linked to databases in which printed markings are recorded.

A lengthy and expensive process that can be faked or manipulated.

Blockchain

Emerging technologies offer great opportunities to strengthen methods related to information tampering. Among the most innovative is blockchain technology.

Through distributed entities, so-called nodes, new blocks of data are added to a digital information chain. The entire chain is subjected to encryption, which makes it highly secure and resistant to manipulation. In addition, information from individual blocks and the entire chain is always visible to all authorized users, making it inherently transparent and even harder to hack.

Because the process is decentralized, it is also referred to as “distributed record-based technology.”

But how is this technology applied in wood tracking?

At the time of the census, the GPS coordinates of a tree are recorded in a block of data. This block is, then, securely added to the blockchain. A “smart tag,” smart tag, (QR code, RFID chip, etc.) is associated on the trunk of each piece of wood, linking it to the GPS information in the blockchain.

Each time the log arrives at its various destinations along the supply chain, its smart tag is scanned and reveals where that piece of wood has been surveyed. The location is automatically checked against a database of illegal logging areas. In case it came from an area where logging is not allowed, it would be immediately flagged.

The digital transaction data that is generated through such interactions is, therefore, continuously added to the blockchain, allowing for complete and secure tracking of a tree’s journey from forest to finished product.

For fuelwood, the system could also be used to verify that the piece of wood has actually been dried in the open air, for the required period of time, and in the appropriate location. Of course, this system ensures that information is reliably and securely transferred to the cut or processed portions of the tree via smart tags.

There are also additional ways to verify provenance information. Chief among these are isotopic fingerprinting and genetic fingerprinting. While one takes advantage of natural variations in stable isotopes (forms of non-radioactive atoms) stored within the wood, the other analyzes the unique genetic patterns of the wood. Both are compared to existing sample archives, allowing for accurate localization.

When used frequently, both methods are a strong deterrent to fraudulent activity.

Sensorization

Traceability is not the only area where new technologies such as blockchain and smart tags offer satisfactory solutions. The same combustion appliance, whether it’s a fireplace, home space heater, professional pizza oven, can benefit from digital innovation through “sensitization.”

This is a new trend in technology, which involves the inclusion of sensors in the same device to obtain constant measurements of a number of parameters. Sensitization began in the early days of smartphones and has since spread to many other devices; after digitization, it is seen by most experts as the necessary second step toward Industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution.

The process involves incorporating a suite of sensors located inside and/or outside the combustion appliance and its exhaust system. In this way, sensitization allows machines and devices to use the sensors to essentially monitor themselves: it simplifies manned control processes and frees up resources to devote to more critical areas. Subsequently, the data collected by the sensors, once analyzed, can be used for machine optimization.

In the case of combustion equipment, sensors initially enable dynamic, computerized monitoring of the combustion process. Then, the continuous flow of data allows optimization of dynamic thermo-fluid parameters, ensuring the best performance. This is particularly useful both for energy recovery and for full compliance with regulations governing the emission of combustion fumes. A very important capability, in a world with strict rules regarding emissions.

Combining blockchain and sensing

Using the example of wood in a culinary setting, the combination of complete wood traceability and high-quality sensorized ovens allows for new and interesting possibilities. With sustainable management of 100% guaranteed fuelwood, restaurateurs can be assured that their dishes have a high level of quality both from the perspective of the food and the fuel used for cooking.

In addition, the burning characteristics of ovens can be tailored to the type of wood and the specific dish being prepared; as in the case of a light fish that needs little smoke while still cooking at a high temperature, or a hearty portion of beef that needs both lots of smoke and a high temperature.

By also mapping the aromatic characteristics of different types of fuelwood at different burn temperatures, it is possible to preload ovens with cooking profiles that take advantage of these different aromas during different stages of the cooking process. Combining multiple woods and their aromatic characteristics with specific dishes would also finally be possible.

Ultimately, the future of fuelwood and related combustion equipment has never been more promising. By combining knowledge and traditions with cutting-edge technology, devices will not only become highly efficient, but also allow for a new exploration of flavors and textures.

This article was published on PF Magazine.