Fireproof Wood Poised to Save Houses, the Earth

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.

Source: Fireproof Wood Poised to Save Houses, the Earth – engineering.com, 2018-07-03

This Concept Uses a Pre-Fabricated Timber System to Enable Modern, Self-Built Homes

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.

Source: This Concept Uses a Pre-Fabricated Timber System to Enable Modern, Self-Built Homes – arch daily, 2018-06-21

Sizing Up Biofuel Markets

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.

Source: Sizing Them Up | Biomassmagazine.com, 2017-03-27

Conference addresses environmental impact of mass timber industry

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.

Source: Conference focuses on mass timber industry | Proud Green Building, 2017-04-03

Lumber prices remain strong as home values improve

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.

Source: Lumber prices remain strong as home values improve – nrtoday.com, 2017-04-05

Global paper and forest products industry outlook to remain stable on steady operating income growth

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.

Source: Moody’s: Global paper and forest products industry outlook to remain stable on steady operating income growth – Business Standard News, 17-03-27

Residues climb as wood pellet feedstock

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.

Source: Residues climb as wood pellet feedstock – Construction & Demolition Recycling, 2017-03-14

Nordic pulp makers seek new lease of life from by-products

By Anna Ringstrom
Nordic forestry firms racing to replace paper business lost to the internet are trying to transform their pulp mill by-products into glue, biofuel and carbon fiber for aircraft and wind turbines.

A new generation of energy-efficient pulp mills are allowing the likes of Stora Enso, UPM-Kymmene, Metsa Group, SCA and Holmen to look for more profitable uses for by-products they have traditionally mostly burned to help power the mills.

Growing global demand for fossil-free materials is also helping to spur the innovation.

Much of the research is at an early stage, and many companies have not even decided which markets to target.

But after years of painful restructuring, some investors are starting to hope the industry could get a new lease of life.

“If they can develop new materials to replace fossil based materials, the market is endless for them,” said Sasja Beslik, head of sustainable finance at Nordea, one of the Nordic region’s biggest asset managers and Stora Enso’s seventh largest shareholder.

One early success story has been Stora Enso’s work with kraft lignin – a refined version of lignin, a substance which accounts for at least a quarter of wood and binds tree fibers together.

The Finnish company opened a kraft lignin plant in 2015, the first of its kind in the region, using a new technology developed in Sweden and marketed by Finland’s Valmet, and decided to focus on using the material as a replacement for petroleum-derived phenols in glue.

Source: Nordic pulp makers seek new lease of life from by-products – Reuters, 2017-0310

Government of Canada Announces Task Force on Softwood Lumber

Canada’s forest sector is vital to a strong Canadian economy. Enhanced collaboration between federal and provincial governments will help to keep our forest sector, and the workers and communities that depend on it, strong and resilient.

Today, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, the Honourable Jim Carr, announced the creation of the Federal–Provincial Task Force on Softwood Lumber, which will share information and analysis to understand potential impacts and assess how to address the needs of affected workers and communities. Minister Carr will chair the domestic task force, while Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, leads softwood engagement with the United States.

There has been ongoing engagement with the provinces, territories and industry over the past two years as the Government of Canada has sought to negotiate a new deal with the U.S. on softwood lumber. This is the next step in our strategic approach to this issue, which strengthens our ongoing efforts on a priority file for the Government. Canada believes that a negotiated agreement that brings predictability and stability to industry on both sides of the border is the best possible outcome. The Government will continue to work closely with provinces, territories and the softwood lumber industry to vigorously defend the interests of the middle-class Canadians who depend on the industry. This work will continue outside of the task force.

The new Federal–Provincial Task Force on Softwood Lumber will assess current federal and provincial programming and ensure coordination of government initiatives to promote innovation, market diversification and transformation of the forest sector.  

The forest sector is an important part of Canada’s economy. It directly employs more than 200,000 people across Canada. Softwood lumber exports were valued at $8.6 billion in 2015 — close to 70 percent of which was exported to the U.S.

Source: Government of Canada Announces Task Force on Softwood Lumber  – Canada.ca, 2017-02-22