The US readymix concrete industry is in fightback mode against the growing momentum of mass timber for tall buildings.
Build With Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, announced this month it would launch new resources, training programs and educational content in Seattle, Washington in an attempt to convince the design and construction sectors of the material’s advantages.
This follows on the organisation claiming it won a victory in February when the Washington State Legislature rejected a bill that would have granted tax breaks for the use of cross-laminated timber.
In an op-ed for the Tacoma News Tribune, Allen Hamblen, president of building materials company CalPortland, and former chairman of the NRMCA board, said subsidising CLT was dangerous because “wood rots, moulds and, worst of all, it burns”. He also said architects would be incentivised to prioritise the price differential over safety.
Treehugger, in coverage of the legislation’s failure, noted flaws in the Build With Strength messaging, including around the comparative carbon footprint, truck movements and safety during earthquakes.
The campaign could now have a bigger fight on its hands, however, with a bipartisan group of US senators and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Senator Maria Cantwell sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would provide research, assistance and incentives for the construction of tall wood buildings.
The bill is backed by senators from across the political divide.
The Timber Innovation Act proposes promoting mass timber for the construction of buildings over seven stories in height, with a range of research priorities, policy initiatives and industry assistance.
“Cross-laminated timber is an integral piece in several of our ongoing discussions. Constructing buildings from wood instead of concrete and steel yields huge benefits in terms of carbon savings and carbon storage,” Ms Cantwell said.
“This is just the first of a series of bills I plan to introduce both to foster the construction of more efficient buildings and to bring additional economic growth to our state.”
Ms Cantwell said the bill would incentives investment through the National Forest Products Lab and American colleges and universities to conduct research and development on new methods for the construction of wood buildings. It would also support ongoing efforts at the US Department of Agriculture to further support the use of wood products as a building material for tall buildings.
Mayor of Darrington, Washington Dan Rankin said. CLT would revolutionise how the US designs, constructs and experiences the built environment.
“CLT allows us the opportunity to build with a material that promotes forest health and sequesters carbon rather than carbon emitting concrete and steel,” he said.
“For rural communities here in the West, CLT means jobs. These jobs encompass a wide range of professional, technical, advanced manufacturing jobs that diversify the fabric of these small communities.”
Washington State University is already undertaking research into building with CLT, and is partnering with non-profit land stewardship and community building organisation Forterra to bring stakeholders together to get local CLT manufacture off the ground.
“If we are to truly sustain our region’s ecosystems, communities and economies into the next century, we must change the game and explore market-based solutions to the challenges confronting our region, from our urban centres to our wild and working landscapes,” Forterra president Gene Duvernoy said.
“The sustainable use and production of cross-laminated timber allows all boats to rise together, strengthening rural economies while providing a new building product for cities.”
Currently the only CLT manufacturing plant in the US is in Oregon. The DR Johnson plant has worked closely with James Day Oregon State University on research and development, and is currently providing panels for two projects in the state.