Will CLT Make a Difference in National Forest Small Wood Demand?

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) technology makes large construction panels from low-value lumber. The panels can be used to build floors, walls and roofs for buildings up to about 16 stories, which is substantially taller than possible using ordinary lumber and plywood. The Forest Service has been shoveling money to study CLT properties and uses, hoping to create a market for national forest small-diameter wood, of which the Forest Service has a lot.

A recent Forest Service-funded study throws some cold water on the agency’s CLT bullishness. The “CLT Demand Study for the Pacific Northwest” authors are experts in econometric modeling, building codes, and wood products technology.

Two take-aways from the study. First, CLT, at best, will take a couple of decades to penetrate its narrow market niche. Second, even at full build-out, its use won’t make a dent in the available timber supply: “The predicted demand for softwood lumber to manufacture CLT panels represents less than 1% in the annual Pacific Northwest timber harvest.”

18 Comments

    • Sure, a fine thing, indeed; but likely to affect management of productive private forestland, not national forests. CLT is a technology that can increase the end-use value of 2x4s. That could cause a plantation landowner to decide that thinning smallish diameter trees is worth the cost. But, only if the land isn’t too steep, too inaccessible, or too far from the mill, i.e., isn’t like most national forests.

      • Aye, but there is a huge amount of small-diameter material technically available, but that is not (yet) economically viable for harvest. In the inland west, say, a market for CLTs could make thinning of small-diameter timber pay for itself.

  1. The study may be right about the CLT market. However, there is considerable activity in the manufacturing of them. See, for example:

    Mass timber company plans for future growth in Montana
    http://www.dailyinterlake.com/article/20170701/ARTICLE/170709990

    Freres Lumber in Oregon is building a mass plywood panel (MPP) plant.
    tinyurl.com/ycd9p6dh

    International Beams, a producer of engineered wood products, has announced that it will invest nearly $20 million to open a cross-laminated timber (CLT) manufacturing facility near Dothan, Alabama.

    Stora Enso, a forest-products manufacturer headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, recently announced that it will invest EUR 45 million (about $51 million) in a new CLT production facility at its Gruvön Mill in Sweden. The mill will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters.

    “We see extensive potential for CLT in the Nordic market,” said Jari Suominen, executive vice president of Stora Enso’s Wood Products division, in a press release.

  2. Unfortunately CLT right now in the US is using mostly 2X8 and 2X6 dimensional lumber. That does not come from small diameter timber. Hopefully we will get to a point where the technology can use smaller piece size, allowing us to utilize small diameter trees more economically.

  3. University of Oregon design for parking structureLike Steve said, the interest is is both international and not just the FS.. e.g.
    http://www.thedailyworld.com/news/cross-laminated-timber-and-grays-harbor-county/

    “Building with cross-laminated timber has clear environmental benefits because it reduces the carbon footprint of new construction,” Lisa Graumlich, Dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, said at a 2014 CLT forum hosted by Congressman Derek Kilmer. “In Washington state, there is an added benefit: the production of cross-laminated timber creates a market for small diameter timber. This creates an economic incentive for thinning operations that improve overall forest productivity and enhance habitat quality for species of concern.”

    Even in your neck of the woods “At the University of Oregon, architecture students are designing projects with CLT and helping test their performance.” http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2017/04/oregon_makes_push_for_wood_sky.html

    And architecture students from U of O won an architecture award for a CLT parking structure design in Springfield. https://architecture.uoregon.edu/news/mass-timber-design-wins-regional-award (check out the design).

    “Earlier this year, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University announced they have joined forces to advance the state’s wood products industry with the establishment of the National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design. The initiative combines the research and design talents of the University of Oregon School of Architecture and Allied Arts with the wood products science expertise in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry and the structural design expertise of OSU’s College of Engineering.”

  4. Demand for CLT is too small to change the economics of small diameter timber, or change the carbon footprint of the carbon-spewing wood-products industry. At best CLT is a boutique value-added wood products industry.

    “CONCLUSION … The predicted results indicate that by 2035 overall demand for CLT panels in the Pacific Northwest could range from 6 – 12 million cubic feet annually for 4+ story construction types, with a best estimate at 6.6 million cubic feet annually. … To provide a lumber demand framework for these numbers, the total harvest of industrial roundwood in the Pacific Northwest, just for lumber production, is over 1,000 million cubic feet. Hence, the predicted demand for softwood lumber to manufacture CLT panels represents less than 1% in the annual Pacific Northwest timber harvest.” http://forterra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Pacific-NW-CLT-Demand-Study-December-2016.pdf

    • Hmm. You say the “wood products industry” is “carbon-spewing”. “Building with cross-laminated timber has clear environmental benefits because it reduces the carbon footprint of new construction,” Lisa Graumlich, Dean of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, said at a 2014 CLT forum hosted by Congressman Derek Kilmer. Now are you saying different things? http://www.thedailyworld.com/news/cross-laminated-timber-and-grays-harbor-county/

    • 2ndOutlaw

      Nice trash talk – keep at it maybe you’ll convince the world that it doesn’t need wood.

      The big picture:
      – More diversity of end use for wood = more market stability over the long run.
      – It’s synergy – the whole is greater than the sum of the pieces.

      • Another fine example of civility, Gil. He calls himself “2ndLaw” not “2ndOutlaw.”

        I’m just glad he doesn’t call himself “wet dream” or else some people would really, really care.

        • Please, folks, sticks to facts and civil discussion, and skip the personal attacks and excessive sarcasm. Sure, I’m guilty, too. It’s easy to give in to frustrations. But these flaming exchanges by a few of us drive others away from the blog.

          Andy’s original question is a good one: Will CLT Make a Difference in National Forest Small Wood Demand? The answer is probably not a large one, but that depends on the market for CLTs and for other wood products and non-renewable products. I’d like to see more alternative views on this from agency and industry market analysts.

          • Thanks for saying this, Steve!
            Just one thought, we need to take anyone’s study lightly… the story of technology spread hasn’t been entirely predictable in the past. Say cell phones, to uber to air bnb… or Teslas or Ancestry DNA. We can make projections based on reasonable scenarios but we just never know when something will really catch on and transform. Yes, I am a big fan of forest economists but like any other discipline, predicting the future is harder than explaining the past.

  5. The statement that the “wood products industry” is “carbon spewing” must be made in a vacuum. When compared to other realistic options, steel, concrete, or plastics, the wood products industry is the least carbon spewing industry. OR is 2nd Law inferring that we will just stop building and the population will stop growing? Neither of which will happen, and to further a discussion with that pretense would be unproductive. The offset of locking carbon up in wood products, not to mention that wood is the only renewable option, should make the wood products industry the preferred alternative. The real question that needs answered is “Why isn’t the wood products industry the preferred alternative?” When compared to the realistic alternatives.
    There are market economics that will prevent CLT from effecting the demand for wood in the US, but to discount the benefits is a disservice to discussions.
    The lack of Federal Timber has shrunk the existing infrastructure to a level that is maximized by private harvest and is now exceeded during peak demands, like now. The harvest capabilities are now closely balanced with private harvest levels, the manufacturing levels are balanced with private harvest levels – new facilities will mean older outdated or less efficient facilities will close, and the market value of logs will continue to climb. But to think that many, if any will invest millions into either additional harvesting capacity or additional manufacturing capacity, at any substantive level, based on federal timber output is naive and out of touch. It has been tried and failed and failed and failed.

  6. Pingback: Andy Stahl: Will CLT make a difference in national forest small wood demand? | Forest Business Network

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