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CLT = new market?
A product with three simple letters--CLT--has the potential to develop into a dynamic new market for Canadian softwood lumber producers, as the industry works to promote Cross Laminated Timber building construction.
By Jim Stirling
CLT has the potential to evolve into a promising new market for Canadian softwood lumber producers.
CLT is an abbreviation for the cross laminated timber building construction system. Basically, it involves gluing together softwood lumber boards and then laminating them into layers. The resulting panels can be manufactured in lengths to 18 metres and 3.6 metre widths, ready for assembly at construction sites.
The CLT system was pioneered in Austria and Germany about 10 years ago and is gaining growing market acceptance in Europe.
Work continues in Canada to transfer that knowledge to North America and adapt it to fit the available fibre resources and market requirements of this continent.
"This is an exceptional new building system," reported Pat Bell, British Columbia's Minister of Forests and Range during an address at Resources Expo in Prince George in June.
A nine-storey building was built in London, England out of CLT. It took 27 days from the foundation being complete to lock-up. The 30-metre tall, 29 unit apartment building only required a crew of four to put it together, added Bell. "If CLT catches on like I think it will, it will consume much lumber. The buildings are solid wood, not frames and studs," he said.
Bell would like to see the Wood Innovation and Design Centre, predicted for construction in downtown Prince George, built by the CLT method and using B.C. wood products.
The long anticipated Wood Innovation and Design Centre is expected to become a provincial asset involving the University of Northern B.C. and other advanced learning centres. It's hoped it will develop into a focal point for architects, designers and engineers to learn about new wood products and their applications.
Bell told his Prince George audience at Resources Expo he expected a CLT plant announcement in B.C. by year's end. The minister wasn't available to update that prediction when the Logging & Sawmilling Journal called in August.
For more than a year, the wood products division of FPInnovations in Vancouver, a federal research and development organization, has been actively investigating the varying aspects of the cross laminated timber system as it might apply to Canada and North America.
"Much of our work is setting up the infrastructure for the product's introduction," summarizes Conroy Lum, a wood product group leader with FPInnovations. "There are a number of questions that have to be answered to determine what we want out of CLT. We need to know what kind of products we can manufacture here," explains Lum.
It's a continuing process involving close consultation with industry working groups, including lumber manufacturers.
One of the challenges is the European experience with CLT is not directly transferable to North America, expands Lum. It's been developed as a proprietary product by individual companies aimed at servicing specific markets.
Each CLT product manufacturer has gone through its own learning curves to successfully serve its markets. "We had to start from scratch and that's the challenging part," says Lum.
His team at FPInnovations --with the collaboration of the industry working group-- has developed a draft standard for CLT use in Canada.
What the work is aimed toward, continued Lum, is establishing a minimum acceptance level for the building system's use in Canada. "These are the minimum requirements for structural safety and can be exceeded by market place requirements and demands," he outlines."We hope, collectively, there will be room for product diversification."
Lum confirms there is a role in CLT systems for wood killed by the mountain pine beetle epidemic in B.C. There are vast amounts of that type of fibre, much of which is becoming increasingly difficult to successfully convert to high grade dimension lumber. "That (use) is definitely one of the interests in CLT. It's a product that uses a lot of fibre. It might not be so efficient structurally but it offers enhanced fire performance," notes Lum.
FPInnovations is also a partner in the recently created Wood Enterprise Coalition. The principal idea behind the coalition is to focus wood product use efforts and avoid duplication in promoting wood's use in commercial and institutional construction. Other members with FP Innovations in the new coalition are WoodWORKS! BC and the B.C. Wood Specialties Group. And the door is open to participation by other groups.
"FPInnovations contributes leading edge, forest-based scientific knowledge to the forest industry across Canada," said Jim Dangerfield, the organization's executive director when the coalition was launched.
"FPInnovations is eager, along with our coalition partners, to apply our collective expertise to our shared goals, which will lead to a stronger, more innovative forest sector."
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