CLT in the South?

By Richard Vlosky and Mason T. LeBlanc

As the United States looks for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, the commercial construction industry and architects are searching for more sustainable products that are cost effective, energy efficient, structurally sound and environmentally friendly.


At the same time, as housing starts have not rebounded to pre-recession levels, forest landowners and wood products manufacturers are seeking alternative markets.


The Louisiana Forest Products Development Center, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center partnered with more than a dozen university, government and industry entities to conduct an analysis of the market environment and potential of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in the U.S. South constructed from Southern Yellow Pine (SYP).


Previous CLT research and development to date has focused on using Douglas-fir and other species from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, as well as spruce-pine-fir from Canada and imported species from European countries.


Softwood Lumber Manufacturing in South


Softwood lumber markets in the South have been regaining momentum since the recession of 2008 as U.S. demand continues to increase. In 2009, U.S. customers purchased close to 31 billion board feet of softwood lumber, which was projected to reach 49 billion board feet in 2018.


The recession caused a significant slump in softwood lumber demand, which in turn allowed trees to grow larger on the stump as landowners waited for low stumpage prices to recover.


In the past independently owned, smaller sawmills made up the lumber industry in the South. During the mid-2000s only about a fifth of the South’s lumber mills were larger than 200 million board feet in size, while approximately a third were smaller mills of less than 100 million board feet. The number of softwood sawmills in the region declined from 420 to 298 from 1995 to 2009 producing a high of 19.5 billion board feet in 2008.


Today, lumber mills in the South are expanding, and are bigger with many managed and owned by large companies rather than independent owners. They currently produce about 22 billion board feet of lumber.


Large sawmills are taking advantage of the low sawtimber prices in the region. Since 2011, the production capacity has increased by 3 billion board feet and is on an upward trajectory from a number of variables.


Housing trends, import tariffs, and an affordable feedstock have accelerated the Southern pine industry.


Canadian firm West Fraser holds the largest production capacity at 3.1