By George Plaven
Timm Locke relishes a chance to drive around Portland and showcase the latest commercial buildings made with mass timber, a construction material that uses wood beams and panels instead of concrete and steel.
First stop: Albina Yard, a four-story office building that opened in 2016 featuring cross-laminated timber panels from D.R. Johnson, a lumber company south of Roseburg.
Every piece of cross-laminated timber — or CLT for short — is prefabricated, designed for a specific part of the building, said Locke, director of forest products at the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. That means buildings go up faster, with fewer workers.
Wood is also environmentally superior to steel and concrete, Locke said, because it sequesters carbon and takes less energy to produce.
“There are so many benefits, it doesn’t matter which one you choose to start with,” Locke said.
First developed in Europe, mass timber is now catching on in the U.S., and Oregon is working to position itself as the industry hub, kick-starting rural economies that have traditionally relied on forest products. On Aug. 1, Oregon became the first state to approve language in its building codes allowing for wood-framed buildings up to 18 stories tall.
BY ADELE PETERS
Spinnova has found a way to spin any cellulose–wood, potato peels, even old T-shirts–into new, strong fiber.
In a new pilot factory in Jyväskylä, Finland–a city surrounded by forests and known in part for its lumber and paper industries–a startup will soon begin to turn wood pulp into something new: a type of fabric that could eventually compete with cotton.
Making wood into fabric isn’t new, but older wood-based fabrics like rayon use harsh chemicals that can pollute water and poison workers. The new fabric, made by a startup called Spinnova, uses a mechanical process instead of chemicals; the only byproduct is evaporated water, which is reused in production. Unlike cotton, which uses massive amounts of water in areas often prone to droughts, it needs little water, no pesticides, and no farmland.
The new process uses FSC-certified wood pulp that’s ground into a gel-like material called microfibrillated cellulose, which is made of tiny fibers. The material flows through the startup’s patented machinery to create a network of fibers that are spun and dried into a fluffy, firm wool that can be knit or woven into fabric and then made into clothing, shoes, or other textiles.
By Emily Pollock
M-Fire’s fire-inhibiting wood looks increasingly important in an industry turning back to wood buildings.
The phrase “wood buildings” conjures up images of flammable, unsafe architecture, but M-Fire Suppression Inc. is looking to change that picture. And it wants its fire-resistant wood to be the new face of ecologically friendly building.
One of the most common tests of a material’s fire resistance is a spread test, where inspectors measure how long it takes fire to spread across the material as compared to control materials. Class A is the most fire-resistant class, and M-Fire is currently the only company making Class A fire-protected cross-laminated timber. To do that, the company infuses wood with surfactants that allow fire inhibitors to migrate into the pockets of oxygen in the wood. The result is a product much eco-friendlier than most traditional fire inhibition. M-Fire is currently the only Class A fire inhibitor with UL Greenguard Gold certification, which means that it’s safe around children and schools.
“We don’t even like the name fire retardant near our brand. We’re a fire inhibitor,” said Steve Conboy, the company’s chairman and general manager. “What happens is, we inhibit fire because we break the chemical reaction in the fire.” The inhibitor breaks the chain of free radicals (H+, OH- and O-) released during combustion, giving the fire nothing to feed on.
The fire protection results in what Conboy calls “defended carbon”: carbon that is stored in the wood and will never be released into the atmosphere. A carbon-absorbing building material gives M-Fire’s wood a distinct advantage over carbon-producing alternatives like structural steel.
by Jack McManus
Space Popular’s design gathers service functions into a central prefabricated core (resembling a Nordic hearth) that DIY-ers can build their own house around.
Solutions from the past can often provide practical answers for the problems of the future; as the London-based design and research firm, Space Popular demonstrate with their “Timber Hearth” concept. It is a building system that uses prefabrication to help DIY home-builders construct their own dwellings without needing to rely on professional or specialized labor. Presented as part of the ongoing 2018 Venice Biennale exhibition “Plots Prints Projections,” the concept takes inspiration from the ancient “hearth” tradition to explain how a system designed around a factory-built core can create new opportunities for the future of home construction.
Realized in the form of a brightly-painted model in the exhibition space at Serra dei Giardini, the Timber Hearth system gathers all the service functions, appliances, and fittings that require professional installation in typical residential buildings and contains them within a prefabricated hearth-like structure.
Fabricated in a factory and sized for shipping in one piece, the core is then installed on site and connected to service grids. After that, the remaining construction (including building the floor platforms, partition walls, facade, and roof) can be completed by the homeowners, either by traditional or contemporary timber-frame methods. According to the designers, this affords reasonably-equipped makers the flexibility, freedom, and affordability to build their own perfect home.
A consortium of timber and CLT companies have teamed up with the U.S. Army and Lendlease to test the blast capacity of timber structures in the real world, setting the stage for more mass timber buildings.
By Tim Portz
The combined export value of wood pellets, ethanol and biodiesel for U.S. producers has flirted with $3 billion since 2012, and depending upon how the final numbers shake out for last year, 2016 may very well be the year this milestone is surpassed. For both wood pellets and fuel ethanol, export numbers have never been higher than they are right now, and all three sectors are eyeing foreign markets as a means to significantly grow their businesses.
An analysis of the same data reveals key and informative differences. While foreign markets are an important part of the overall market picture for fuel ethanol and biodiesel producers, exports account for less than 10 percent of annual production while, from a volumetric perspective, wood pellet production in the U.S. is heavily reliant on foreign markets.
Now, the looming question is, what impact will a Trump administration, which campaigned on a promise to revisit the nation’s trade agreements, have on the export opportunities for each of these industries?
Global Market Leaders
In both the fuel ethanol and wood pellet categories, the U.S. can boast the largest production capacity and the largest share of the global export market. In both cases, U.S. exports outstrip the closest competitor by a wide margin. Wood pellet export volumes for U.S. producers were well over 4 million tons, while Canada has yet to surpass 2 million tons of exports. Brazil is the world’s second leading producer of fuel ethanol, and while production and export volumes there vary from year to year, in 2015, its export volumes were about half of what U.S. producers achieved. Additionally, Brazil is a prominent market for U.S. ethanol producers taking over 100 million gallons in 2015.
Organizers of last week’s International Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Ore., devoted a whole track of the three-day event to environmental and sustainability aspects of the mass timber sector — an indication of the importance of sustainability to the tall timber building brand.
Manufacturing of cross laminated timber, or CLT — the product used to construct tall timber buildings — has the potential to revitalize the timber sector and the rural communities in Oregon that have fallen on hard times because of the widespread closure of timber mills across the state, reports Oregon Business.
But experts concede the environmental benefits of CLT are complex and difficult to measure.
Structural engineers look at the lifecycle emissions of CLT when assessing the environmental impact of tall timber buildings. The lifecycle analysis takes account of the greenhouse gas emissions from the harvesting of the wood, through the manufacturing and construction of tall timber buildings, to their eventual demolition.
When taking this cradle-to-grave assessment, the environmental benefits of CLT are not clear.
Lumber prices continue to be robust two months in a row. Logs are also strong. Home values continue improving with relatively brisk sales and building. Industry manufacturing has improved. Recent trends of lumber, logs, home construction, and housing markets, are compared.
Statistics look quite good this month. Median home value continues to rise, mortgage rates have somewhat stabilized, unsold inventories of homes remain low, albeit creeping up, and housing starts and building permits remain consistently in the 1200s, which is an improvement. But lumber prices and log prices are a big story, along with real estate selling briskly in both Portland and Roseburg.
The log price is holding up at $720. The lumber price has also held for two months in a row, at $360. This is the highest price for studs since 2013, and before that, since 2005. 2013 was the year the snails-pace recovery began in earnest. One year earlier, in 2012, median home prices hit rock bottom ($151,600 in January, 2012). Housing starts moved from the 800’s in 2012 to 1000’s in 2013 and there was a feeling of optimism. During the midst of the Great Recession, mill production levels were at their lowest and the increased demand in 2013 raised the lumber prices. Once mill production increased from basement levels, in anticipation of increased housing starts, prices dropped again. Now we are entering a new cycle.
Higher prices and stronger wood product, paper packaging and market pulp demand offsetting rising input costs and lower paper demand will keep the outlook for the global paper and forest products industry stable, says Moody’s Investors Service in a newly published global outlook for the sector. Consistent with the stable outlook, the rating agency expects consolidated operating income increases of 2-4% for its 46 globally-rated forest product companies over the next 12-18 months.
Moody’s expects that the consolidated operating income of the 29 North American companies it rates will remain essentially flat, with 2-4% growth over the outlook period. Such growth is consistent with analysts’ expectations of modest operating income growth from North American paper packaging, wood products and timberland producers being partially offset by lower operating earnings from pulp and paper companies. Significantly, these same companies account for about 60% of the global rated industry’s operating income.
A growing source of fiber furnish in both countries consists of sawmill byproducts and forest residues, together accounting for more than 80 percent of the total feedstock in British Columbia, Canada, and almost 50 percent in the U.S. South.
Over the past 10 years there has been a clear shift in fiber-sourcing for pellet manufacturers in the U.S. South from logs to residues, says the NAWFR. In 2008, when the first large pellet plant was built, practically all fiber consumed by the plant was “low-quality, small-diameter logs from adjacent forests,” says NAWFR. It describes that fiber source as a “high-cost fiber furnish, since it needs to be chipped, hammered and dried before it can be processed to pellets, which adds substantial cost to the manufacturing of pellets.”
Increasingly, pellet plants throughout the southern states have turned to sawmill byproducts
and forest residues that in the past were left at harvesting sites. The NAWFR says for the past five years it has tracked the fiber sources for the pellet industry each quarter in the two major producing regions of North America (British Columbia and the U.S. South), and it has seen two clear trends:
In British Columbia, pellet companies have moved from entirely relying on inexpensive sawdust from the local sawmills for its fiber furnish to increasingly supplementing its dominant fiber source with forest residues in the form of tree tops and branches left after harvest operations; and
In the U.S. South, there has been an increase in the usage of residuals at the expense of cut logs.