Cross-laminated timber advances in the Northwest


The cross-laminated timber (CLT) industry in the Pacific Northwest received a couple huge boosts this month. First the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will help Washington and Oregon become a center for the manufacturing of CLT and its use in the construction of tall wood buildings.

While there isn’t any money yet attached to the federal government’s announcement, the new designation of a manufacturing zone for CLT and other cutting-edge wood products is still a breakthrough development.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, applauded the designation.

“This announcement is great news for Southwest Washington families and businesses as we all work to develop and grow our economy, and create jobs for local workers,” Murray said in a statement.”

…The Commerce Department is considering a 16-county swath from southern Oregon to Vancouver, Washington, a manufacturing zone (and) will dedicate federal resources — including a liaison and promotion to domestic and foreign investors — to help grow the fledgling industry.

“Never before have we had the opportunity to collaborate as closely with such a broad range of partners to strengthen opportunities for manufacturing job creation. We are thrilled to receive this designation,” said Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (in Vancouver).

Here’s what else is planned:

  • Special certification program for wood product manufacturing
  • Training for young people who want a path other than traditional education systems
  • Repurposing old lumber mills in rural areas to adapt to new technology, rather than building new mills
  • Washington officials plan to update land designations to align with Oregon’s study of industrial land that can accommodate manufacturing industries.

The federal designation will cover three Washington counties: Clark, Klickitat and Skamania.

In other major news, the Oregon Legislature approved about $30 million in state bonding for the construction of the Oregon Forest Science Complex at Oregon State University. The project, which will include another $30 million in private funds, will focus on new timber technologies, including CLT. Cross-laminated timber will be used not just in the construction of some of the new complex but also be a key part of the school’s teaching and research, said Dr. Thomas Maness, the Dean of OSU’s College of Forestry. (Maness spoke about CLT and the new Forest Science Complex at the 2014 Washington Forest Protection Association’s Annual Meeting.)

The project, while in Oregon, will also boost the Washington forestry industry by promoting the use of CLT and providing highly skilled graduates.

“With this project investment (by the Legislature), the state of Oregon is doubling down to lead a new national effort to advance the science and technology of environmentally friendly wood construction,” College of Forestry Dean Thomas Maness said in a statement.

“We are partnering with companies in our forest products industry to bring new jobs to rural communities,” Maness said.

…The new 20,000-square-foot research facility will be used to develop and test new wood-building products that could be manufactured in Oregon. The Advanced Wood Building Products Laboratory will include a high-bay lab, computer-controlled and robotic manufacturing systems and what OSU says is a unique strong floor for full-scale product testing.

The new facilities are scheduled to open in fall 2017, according to OSU.

Maness said the expanded research and degree programs that will be offered as a result of the expansion will give students “a real-life glimpse into the future of forestry and the wood products industry” while creating a trained workforce for the industry.

Meanwhile, the innovation in tall wood buildings continues. Just last week, the Guardian interviewed British Columbia architect Michael Green, an innovator in CLT who starred last year in a series of wood-building videos sponsored by the Washington Forest Protection Association, the Washington Contract Loggers Association, the Family Forest Foundation and the Washington Farm Forestry Association.

Green told the Guardian that his ambitions for CLT are growing taller and more iconic.

(Green is) currently undertaking research to explore whether the 110-storey Empire State Building in New York could have been constructed with a timber structure, instead of steel. His solution, like Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s proposal, is a hybrid system combining mass timber alongside steel and concrete.

“One of the unique problems with wood buildings is we need to keep the columns a bit closer together than you’d usually expect in a tall building,” he said. “The columns in the Empire State Building are already close together. If we replace these with wood we absolutely could build to 110 storeys.”

Green’s Empire State Building redesign also includes replacing the exterior brickwork with hollow timber sections, allowing for steel tension rods to run the height of the tower, in order to provide stability and reduce sway.

The research is only conceptual at the moment, suggests Green, but such heights are unlikely to be realised in the near future. Regardless, he is convinced that timber is the material that will transform skylines around the world. “When I said seven years ago we could build three storeys with wood people thought I was crazy. Today we’re seeing timber tower proposals every month.”