Logwise Ltd and Ekorex Homes Ltd agents for HONKA in the UK                                      

Timber wins 'The Great Materials Debate'

Forest

Timber was overwhelmingly voted the most sustainable construction material over steel, concrete, masonry and PVCu at 'The Great Materials Debate' at Ecobuild (27 February - 1 March 07).

This is a story that is not yet complete, but the story so far is worth the telling. It's a story about:

  • Sustainable production
  • Efficient manufacturing with next to no waste
  • Buildings that are beautiful to look at, comfortable to live and work in and which last
  • A material that can be, reprocessed, recycled and then used to create energy.

I'm also going to tell you about the carbon cycle and how timber captures carbon and produces oxygen. This is a story, too, about a modern industry, which is investing for the future, creating buildings which are energy efficient with an increasing range of end use options. This is the never-ending story of timber.

Production

Fixing carbon, producing oxygen - timber is produced from trees, which tend to grow in forests - what a factory setting! Through photosynthesis, trees draw in energy from sunlight, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, take in water from the soil and then release oxygen back into the atmosphere.

1m3 of timber will have fixed 1 tonne of CO2 and released 0.7 tonne of oxygen. The world's forest area of 700 million ha represents some 60 million tonnes of CO2 stored in wood.

Timber is also a local material. The EU is a net exporter of timber and forests are growing by 500,000 ha per annum. And this is the unfinished part of the story - more and more of the timber we use is certified as 'Legal and Sustainable' (under schemes such as FSC, PEFC,SFI and CSA) or 'Legal' (MTCC), as defined by the UK government under CPET (Central Point of Expertise in Timber).

From a standing start just over a decade ago, some 40% of global timber production carries creditable environmental certification. In the EU 80% of the forest area has a written management plan and 90% of it is considered stable - All of which is quite an achievement.

Manufacture

Timber is predominantly a local material. Only around 15% of total production is traded internationally. In the EU 97% of all the softwood used is produced within the EU and for all timber products that figure is 90%. The forest products industry in the UK is thriving. Substantial investment has been made in the past 15 years as producers move progressively into high value markets.

And timber-manufacturing processes are efficient with virtually zero waste. Around 60% of the material that comes into the sawmill is converted into sawn timber. Chips and sawdust are used to provide energy for the mill or go to produce panel products. Waste is minimal.

In use

Their design may be different, but all timber buildings can be described as beautiful, light and strong.
They are warm and welcoming, energy efficient and designed for durability.
Environmentally, timber has huge advantages over other materials.

  • It is low in embodied energy
  • Timber buildings are energy efficient
  • Timber is an efficient structural material
  • Timber buildings go on - and on - and on - they are designed to be durable

End of life

Eventually many buildings will be dismantled or demolished and it is a fact of life that waste is produced. However timber can be reused, recycled or recovered.

Re-use tends to involve the better material for architectural salvage and this is happening on a small, local scale and each year sees an increase in the volume of material involved. The amount of timber being recycled is also growing rapidly, driven partly by legislation and by swingeing increases in landfill tax. By 2010 it is predicted that the volume of timber being recycled in Europe will grow from the 4 million m3 estimated in 2000 to some 30 million m3.

Huge efforts are being directed into developing markets for recycled products, including animal bedding, compost, surfacing and charcoal.

Even now, 75% of the power used in processing and drying wood products is produced from biomass - just 1 m3 of timber can produce 300 kW hours of electricity, for example, far more than is need to produce the dried, sawn timber in the first place.

This completes the cycle: forest - sawmill - building - bedding - power. And at the end of the process remember that all we are doing is releasing the carbon originally stored in the tree as energy.

More information on:

  • TRADA Technology's timber consultancy services
  • Environmental issues and the use of wood

'The Great Materials Debate' at Ecobuild (27 February - 1 March 07).
The case for timber was eloquently put by TRADA's Paul Newman.

This is an extract from the presentation