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Great potential for CLT, but awareness lacks

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is on the rise worldwide and many companies are beginning to ride this new and exciting wave. In 2017 and early 2018, 13 new mills were proposed from the United States to New Zealand. Of those, seven are under construction and will be online by 2020. In 2016, the global output of CLT was estimated to be 1 million cubic meters and is forecasted to reach 3 million cubic meters by 2025. The North American market alone is said to have the potential of 2-6 million cubic meters. Many issues need to be resolved first, such as awareness and adoption by architects, builders, architectural and civil engineers, and adoption of building codes to allow CLT. CLT manufacturing has been used in building in Europe for two decades, where there are more than 600 CLT structures and dozens of manufacturing facilities. CLT has expanded globally, except in Africa and South America. More than 50 mills exist worldwide, which will hit the 60 mark in 2020. In addition to new production coming, major players in Europe continue to expand capacity. In Japan, which constructed a “CLT Roadmap” in 2014 that includes a three-year plan to prepare building regulations, is conducting case studies and developing a production chain. It plans to mostly use their own forest resources and subsidize 50 percent of new mills cost while building a new 50,000-cubic-meter capacity mill every year for 10 years to reach a goal of 500,000 cubic meters in 2024. Five mills are operating now. Europe has built 18 all-timber seven- to 14-story buildings, with nine buildings using timber and conventional materials from seven to 20 stories, and nine proposed buildings from eight to 35 stories. Most of these are in the United Kingdom and France. Australia plans to build a 26-story timber and conventional materials building in Nigeria. Japan announced it will build the world’s tallest timber tower in Tokyo at 1,148 feet with 70 stories. Norway is nearing completion of an 18-story timber building, the world’s tallest, in Brumenddal. The United States has three operating mills and four under construction. D.R. Johnson in Riddle, Oregon, and Smartlam in Colombia Falls, Montana, are producing made-to-order CLT. Smartlam is expanding operations in its Colombia Falls location and will build a new mill in Maine by fall 2019. Ligna Terra also wants to build a mill in Millinocket, Maine, and will be completed in 2019. International Beams in Dothan, Alabama, came online in September and Vaagen Brothers Lumber of northwestern Washington opened a subsidiary company, Vaagen Timbers LLC, which began CLT production in Colville, Washington, this year. Increase in the demand for structural panels has sparked two other companies’ interest. American Laminators and Columbia Vista have proposed starting CLT production lines. In addition to CLT focused on building construction, Sterling Lumber in Phoenix, Illinois, is producing CLT for crane mats, but could expand to building applications if markets are found to be attractive. CLT manufacturing leader Katerra of Menlo Park, California, announced it received $865 million in funding for its mill in Spokane, Washington, as well as additional other ventures, and will be online in 2020. It also acquired Michael Green Architects and Lord Aeck Sargent in efforts to remain true to its goal, “Better, faster and cheaper buildings for everyone.” Timber buildings in the United States are being constructed for residential, office and commercial structures. The T3 office building in Minneapolis was built by Michael Green Architects and was the first modern tall wooden building in the U.S. A few buildings under construction are a CLT building at the University of Arkansas for student housing, a CLT hotel in Fort Drum, New York, and a six-story building in Portland, Oregon. A few U.S. universities have developed programs and curricula targeting Tall Buildings. Examples of leaders in this public/private model are Clemson University, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Oregon. Dr. Richard Vlosky, director of the Louisiana Forest Products Development Center, is leading a multi-institutional study with more than 20 university, industry and foundation partners to examine perceptions, awareness, opportunities and barriers to using CLT from the perspectives of architects, non-residential builders, architectural and civil engineers, and lumber manufacturers in a 10-state region in the South. So, what are the opportunities and challenges for Louisiana? With the abundance of southern yellow pine and 14 million acres of forestland, there are opportunities for CLT mills. The forest products sector of our economy already accounts for 10 percent of the economy and employs 17,400 people, mostly in rural areas. Rural towns would economically benefit as proven with other mills in the state. Aside from the economic benefits, the introduction of CLT would give architects and builders access to the material, allowing them to reduce the carbon footprint by building efficiently relative to using steel and concrete. This will be determined by architects, builders and public acceptance of using timber as a substitute for conventional concrete and steel. Recent studies about properties of southern yellow pine CLT have proven to surpass the ANSI/APA PRG 320 standard for grade 4 CLT, but knowledge of the material in the South is still low. Oregon and Washington are knowledgeable about the uses of CLT by recently approving statewide building codes that include tall timber buildings. The APA also recently approved building codes for mass plywood panels, which helps to further the case for wood construction. Research, development and successful examples will help convince local stakeholders and influencers as well as the public of the soundness and the possibilities of using CLT. As we look to the future, perceptions can change, but it will take open minds and forward thinkers to take advantage of the resources around us. (Richard P. Vlosky, Ph.D., is director and Crosby Land & Resources Professor of Forest Sector Business Development. Mason T. LeBlanc is a masters graduate student.)


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