From Yale University:
A new Yale study predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production — it could turn the world’s cities into a vast carbon sink.
Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, a multidisciplinary team of researchers and architects predicts that designing mid-rise urban buildings with engineered timber — rather than relying mainly on carbon-intensive materials — has the potential to create a vast “bank vault” that can store within these buildings 10 to 68 million tons of carbon annually that might otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Simultaneously, society would drastically reduce carbon emissions associated with the construction sector, said Galina Churkina, who led the collaborative research while she was a visiting fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).
“Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have been releasing into the atmosphere all of this carbon that had been stored in forests and in the ground,” said Churkina, who is a senior scientist at PIK. “We wanted to show that there can be a vision for returning much of this carbon back into the land.”
Beyond that, achieving a large-scale wood-based construction sector has the potential to create a new “symbiotic relationship” between natural systems and cities, said Alan Organschi, another author, from the Yale School of Architecture and Gray Organschi Architecture in New Haven.
“The city would become a carbon sink rather than a carbon source,” he said. “We would essentially be storing the carbon that would otherwise be combusted for energy or aerobically digested on the forest floor and allowing the forest to ‘continue’ in this restorative, carbon-absorbing system.”
Other authors include Barbara Reck, a senior research scientist and industrial ecologist at F&ES, Thomas Graedel, professor emeritus of industrial ecology at F&ES, as well as researchers from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Tsinghua University’s Department of Earth Systems Science, and Gray Organschi Architecture’s Timber City Research Initiative.
The abstract to the paper ($) summarized in the Yale article:
The anticipated growth and urbanization of the global population over the next several decades will create a vast demand for the construction of new housing, commercial buildings and accompanying infrastructure. The production of cement, steel and other building materials associated with this wave of construction will become a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Might it be possible to transform this potential threat to the global climate system into a powerful means to mitigate climate change? To answer this provocative question, we explore the potential of mid-rise urban buildings designed with engineered timber to provide long-term storage of carbon and to avoid the carbon-intensive production of mineral-based construction materials.