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Hoping to bring CLT, MPP to Louisiana

If you are connected to the forest products industry and haven’t heard about CLT or MPP, you are behind the curve.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) and massive plywood panels (MPP) products, used in building tall buildings in Europe for more than a decade, have exploded on the scene in the United States over the past five years. CLT and MPP are the hottest products to hit the building market in years and could have as great an impact on wood product markets and manufacturing as oriented strandboard did since its meteoric rise to dominate plywood in sheathing and roofing.

As the United States looks for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, the construction industry and architects are searching for more sustainable products that are cost effective, energy efficient, structurally sound and environmentally friendly. There is an evolving campaign to replace concrete and steel with these new engineered wood products in modern residential and commercial buildings. Several multi-story buildings have been erected using engineered wood products where steel and concrete were traditionally used.

Where is the Action?

There are only two CLT producers in the United States, Smartlam in Columbia Falls, Montana, and D.R. Johnson in Riddle, Oregon, both using Douglas fir. Interest and funding for researching applications and structural testing for CLT is increasing. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council sponsored a 2015 national Tall Wood Buildings competition for demonstration projects using wood products in high-rise structures. Each winner received $1.5 million.

One winner, The Framework Project LLC, is nearing completion on a 12-story CLT/timber–based building in Portland, Oregon. Among additional innovative Portland buildings, Carbon12 is the tallest timber/CLT building in the United States.

With regard to MPP, only one company, Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons, Oregon, manufactures this product in the United States. The company announced its new veneer-based panels in October after more than a year of development and performance testing. Freres says the panels could be used for floors and walls in multi-story commercial buildings, and they could be made to order.

Ari Sinha, assistant professor at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, says the main benefits of MPP are versatility and strength.

What’s Happening in the South?

Although there are no CLT or MPP manufacturers in the South, there is heightened interest in developing markets using Southern Yellow Pine (SYP). The types of infrastructure-enabling partnerships mentioned earlier are evolving in the South.

In a presentation at the Mass Timber Conference, Dr. Jacob Gines, assistant professor, School of Architecture, Mississippi State University; and co-author, Tedrick Ratcliff, executive director, Mississippi Forestry Association discussed TIMBR: Timber Innovations for Mississippi Buildings Reimagined. This initiative was started with grants from Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Weyerhaeuser and other partners to promote mass-timber research, innovative wood construction techniques and the value of timber certification. Since, a TIMBR Symposium brought together industry professionals from around the country to Mississippi in September 2016 to discuss the potential applications and developmental future of mass-timber for the southeast. And the TIMBR Architecture Design Studio was established. This is a senior architecture design studio conducted at MSU that explores mid-rise mass-timber construction. Students have developed building proposals for an eight-10 story commercial building in Jackson and constructed full-scale CLT panels for destructive testing.

Another example is at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where the Fay Jones School of Architecture + Design developed the Wood Design+Innovation Initiatives program. One objective is to promote markets that create or expand the demand for non-energy based wood products. Visiting professors will lead students in exploration of CLT construction for dormitories at the U of A. A next step is to build a CLT production plant in Arkansas with the overarching goal of becoming the nexus for CLT production in the South.

Louisiana in the Game?

Presently, there are no active CLT or MPP initiatives in Louisiana. However, the authors will lead a significant multi-year effort focusing on the efficacy of using SYP in these applications. We propose an “ideation-to-production” approach to better understand the dynamics of CLT and MPP production in the nation’s Southern wood supply. Components include market research to identify potential supply and demand, employment opportunities and economic impacts for CLT and MPP from SYP. This will focus on supply chain members, as well as investigating the willingness of policymakers, university entities and other stakeholders to support an initiative similar to those that have been established in Mississippi, South Carolina and Arkansas. The second component will be pilot production and testing of various types and sizes of CLT and MPP.

The potential markets for CLT and MPP are enormous if architects, builders/contractors and building owners accept the product as a substitute for steel and concrete construction. The South has ample Southern yellow pine resources to meet some of the potential market for CLT and MPP. Also, competition generally tends to result in increasing supply and lowering prices, which might help to advance the use of innovative wood products overall in North America.

(Richard P. Vlosky, Ph.D., is director, Louisiana Forest Products Development Center, Crosby Land & Resources Endowed Professor of Forest Sector Business Development, LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources. Roy O. Martin III is president, CFO and CEO of Martco LLC.)

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