Tag Archives: Timber

Wooden buildings could help stabilize the climate

Replacing steel and concrete with wood could help in our efforts to stabilize the climate, a new paper reports. The shift would slash emissions generated by the production of such materials and further acts as a carbon sink.

Image via Pixabay.

Despite the advantages of using wood over other materials in construction, the findings should be taken with a grain of salt: harvesting enough timber for all buildings could place huge pressure on the environment. The authors thus caution that sustainable forest management and governance is key to the success of such a shift.

Going back to the basics

“Urbanization and population growth will create a vast demand for the construction of new housing and commercial buildings — hence the production of cement and steel will remain a major source of greenhouse gas emissions unless appropriately addressed,” says the study’s lead-author Dr. Galina Churkina from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany (PIK).

For the study, the team analyzed four different scenarios spanning thirty years into the future. The business as usual scenario considered that only 0.5% of all new buildings constructed by 2050 will be made out of timber. The second and third scenarios considered that figure to sit at 10% and 50% respectively, to simulate a mass transition towards timber. The final scenario considered that 90% of all new buildings will be constructed out of wood, simulating what would happen if even underdeveloped countries make the transition towards this building material.

The first scenario could store around 10 million tons of carbon per year, while the last would be close to 700 million tons. The team explains that reductions in cement and steel production would help further reduce emissions, which currently sit at around 11,000 million tons of carbon per year. Assuming that steel and concrete would still be in use (scenario 2 and 3) and assuming an increase in floor area per person, as has been the trend up to now, the team estimates that timber buildings could slash up to 20% of the CO2 emissions budget by 2050 by reducing emissions from building material manufacturing. The carbon budget is the quantity of CO2 emissions we can release and still meet the 2°C threshold set by the Paris agreement.

The authors argue that society needs some kind of effective CO2 sink to meet this budget to counteract hard-to-avoid emissions, such as those from agriculture. A five-story building made of laminated timber can store up to 180 kilos of carbon per square meter, they explain, which is around three times more than what a natural forest could hold. However:

“Protecting forests from unsustainable logging and a wide range of other threats is key if timber use was to be substantially increased,” explains co-author Christopher Reyer from the PIK. “Our vision for sustainable forest management and governance could indeed improve the situation for forests worldwide as they are valued more.”

Currently, the team estimates, unexploited wood resources would cover the demands of the 10% scenario. If floor area per person remains as it is now worldwide, the 50% or even 90% scenario could be feasible. An important goal here is to reduce the use of wood as fuel to free it up for use as a construction material.

Reducing the use of roundwood for fuel — currently roughly half of the roundwood harvest is burnt, also adding to emissions — would make more of it available for building with engineered timber. Moreover, re-using wood from demolished buildings can add to the supply.

“There’s quite some uncertainty involved, yet it seems very worth exploring,” says Reyer. “Additionally, plantations would be needed to cover the demand, including the cultivation of fast-growing Bamboo by small-scale landowners in tropical and subtropical regions.”

The paper “Buildings as a global carbon sink” has been published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Tokyo announces plan to build 350-meter skyscraper made from wood

A skyscraper is set to become the tallest timber structure in the world. The 350 meter (1,148ft), 70-floor construction will tower over Japan’s capital as a lighthouse of environmentally-friendly building. However, construction isn’t scheduled to start until 2041.

How the skyscraper will look like. Image credits: Sumitomo.

Architects have become more and more passionate about timber constructions, and Tokyo has more than its fair share of wood structures. In fact, a law passed in 2010 mandates that all public buildings of three stories or fewer need to be built primarily from wood — but skyscrapers are a completely different story.

The new project belongs to a wood products company Sumitomo Forestry Co, who also maintains a significant part of Japan’s forests. The construction will commemorate Sumitomo’s 350th anniversary.

The W350 tower will be mostly wood and 10% steel. Image credits: Sumitomo.

Sumitomo says the new structure, which they call the W350 Project, will be an example of “urban development that is kind for humans,” adding natural wood, greenery, and biodiversity to an otherwise grey and overly urban area.

The new building will be built almost exclusively from wood, using just 10% steel. The internal framework (columns, beans, etc) will be made from a wood-steel hybrid material, designed to withstand Japan’s extremely high rate of seismic activity. The Tokyo-based architecture firm Nikken Sekkei will contribute to the design.

Sumitomo’s plan also takes advantage of the fact that Japan’s forest cover is one of the most impressive in the world, and that the country’s wood stockpile is increasing each year. In a press release, they say that the project will not only be aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly, but it could also inject new life into an already mature economy. W350, they say, will popularize timber architecture, jumpstarting a revitalization of the forestry industry and sparking new interest in reforestation.

“The project offers the advantages of the re-use of timber, urban development that is kind for humans, and the vitalization of forestry. Wooden construction will increase through the optimal use of the strengths of trees.”

“We will make every effort to further enhance fire and seismic resistance as well as durability, thoroughly reduce construction costs, develop new materials and construction methods, and develop trees that will be used as resources.”

“We will strive to create environmentally-friendly and timber utilizing cities to Change Cities into Forests.”

Image credits: Sumitomo.

The 70 stories will provide 455,000 square meters in floor space, which will house shops, offices, a hotel and residential units. The facades will be covered in relaxing gardens and terraces. W350 will use more than 6.5 million cubic feet of wood

However, this innovative plan comes at a cost — Sumitomo will pocket an estimated ¥600bn (£4.02bn), almost double that of a conventional high-rise building. However, since construction won’t actually start by 2041, the company says that technological advancements will significantly lower this cost.

The world’s tallest timber building opens in Canada – ahead of schedule

The towering Brock Commons, made completely from timber, were just completed, becoming the world’s biggest structure made from wood.

The wooden skyscraper was constructed ahead of target. Image via Acton Ostry Architects, who developed the project.

The building is part of a University of British Columbia campus, serving as a student housing hall. It will house 404 students in 272 studios and 33 four-bedroom units, and feature study and social gathering spaces for upper-year and graduate students. There will also be a ground-floor lounge and study space for commuter students. Students will pay the same for rent at the wood building as in other similar accommodations at other student residences.

The 18-story building will also serve as a proof of concept, showing that wooden skyscrapers can become a common occurrence.

Wood is a sustainable material which is not only renewable but also stores carbon dioxide instead of emitting it, like concrete buildings.

“This project should effectively demonstrate that mass wood structures can be commonplace,” said Russell Acton, principal architect on the project.

However, not all of it is built from wood. The building’s base and two cores are made of concrete, especially because regulations limit wooden buildings to six floors. After its completion, the $51.5-million residence building stands 53 meters tall (about 174 feet). The cost is a bit higher than with concrete buildings, but not by much (approximately 8%). This is not prohibitive and we can expect other wooden skyscrapers to pop up, given their environmental advantages. Furthermore, if the residence is successful and other players are attracted to the market, then increasing demand will bring down the prices, making them competitive with conventional, concrete-based buildings.

“(As) a building like this becomes a reality, it really paves the way for additional projects across the country, probably throughout North America and throughout the world,” said Lynn Embury-Williams, executive director of the Canadian Wood Council’s Wood Works BC program, who worked on the project.

John Metras, managing director of UBC Infrastructure confirmed that the construction was completed ahead of schedule. After work started in last November, it took less than a year to finish everything.

“Construction just went really smoothly. It was well designed and the construction sequence went smoothly.”

Of course, architects were eager to ease worries regarding fires, so aside from applying an anti-flammable treatment to every bit of wood used in the structure, they fit a sprinkler system at every level and encapsulated the wood in drywall and concrete.

How Massachusetts plans to save the timber rattlesnake

Massachusetts state officials plan to designate the uninhibited island Mount Zion as a safe haven for the endangered timber rattlesnakes. The 1,350-acre wide site will be populated with adult snakes and authorities will keep a close watch on their progress.

Aww look he’s waving! I think he wants to be friends!
Image by Wikimedia user Rkillcrazy.

Timber rattlesnakes are one of the Commonwealth’s most endangered species of snakes. While other species in the area have seen an increase in population over the past several decades, the number of timber rattlesnakes has been steadily going down over this period. This venomous species has been heavily affected both by habitat loss (as the snakes require hard-to-find deep hibernation sites to survive the winter) and by humans killing the animals out of fear.

There’s a real danger that there won’t be any timber rattlesnakes to rattle their tails around if steps are not taken to protect the species. With only 200 known individuals (including those in zoos) currently living in the state of Massachusetts, officials have begun an official conservation program. But where do you put animals that a) most people are terrified of and b) require some pretty rare terrain to survive?

Right there! Image via The San Diego Tribune

Right there!
Image via The San Diego Tribune

Cue Brazil’s solution to a similar problem, Ihla da Queimada Grande, or Snake Island. Following their example, officials plan to designate the largest island in the Quabbin Reservoir, named Mount Zion, as a protected habitat for the species. This 1,350-acre uninhabited island is perfect for the snakes because of it’s isolation and protective habitats. The program calls for adult snakes, grown at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island to be taken to the island where authorities will monitor them until a healthy population is established.

Unsurprisingly, some of the local residents want none of that. Despite the readily apparent need for conservation, everyone would rather that the conservation itself take place somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away would be best. However, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife project director Tom French wants to assure everyone that neither the plan nor the beasts pose any real danger to locals.

“As a venomous snake, the Timber Rattlesnake certainly has the potential to be dangerous but the reality is that there has been no harm inflicted on the public by these reptiles,” says French.

“Timber Rattlesnakes are generally mild in disposition and often rattle their tails to alert animals and people of their presence.”

Locals need not be concerned with a reptilian invasion of the mainland, French adds. Timber rattlesnakes are competent swimmers but they need to find well protected, deep hibernation sites to survive the local winters. There simply aren’t any suitable boulder fields of deep fissures left for them to live in. Without adequate protection, these cold-blooded creatures will not easily establish themselves beyond the island.

The snake conservation plan has been in development for years and has the support of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

“People are just petrified of snakes,” says Peter Mallett, a local resident.

Still, seeing as most locals are starting to warm up to the project, Mallett hopes that human beings and snakes can coexist peacefully.