'Plywood on steroids' holds great potential for Oregon economy, environment
Oregon and Southwest Washington are well-positioned to become a manufacturing hub for cross-laminated timber — an innovative building product sometimes called "plywood on steroids" — according to a new study prepared by Oregon BEST.
The 110-page analysis found Oregon has the potential to create 2,000 to 6,100 direct jobs making cross-laminated timber and related mass timber products, which use adhesives and layered wood to create massive panels used as walls, floors and roofs, or beams. Mid-rise office and residential buildings are now being made with CLT, providing a dramatically lower carbon footprint than buildings using concrete and steel. Some high-rise projects using CLT are in the works.
Studies show CLT also cuts costs, mostly because construction takes less time. That cost advantage is projected to grow.
"The cost of wood as a building material and as the raw material for CLT is expected to stay stable in the near future, while concrete and steel prices are forecast to raise with their relative energy prices and carbon costs," the report states.
Oregon BEST, which commissioned the study along with partners, is a state-supported nonprofit that works closely with academia to nurture the state's clean-tech industry.
CLT was developed in Europe, and European and Canadian companies got into the field before their U.S. counterparts. But D.R. Johnson became the first U.S. company certified to manufacture CLT in 2015, and is making it at its Southern Oregon plant in Riddle.
Two more companies could open production lines here within the next two years, the report states. Those are Columbia Vista Corp., based in Vancouver, Washington; and Drain, Oregon-based American Laminators, which makes glulam, another engineered wood product. American Laminators has an idle plant in Swiss Home, Oregon that could be adapted to make CLT.
In addition, Frères Lumber Co. Inc. plans to make an alternative to CLT, which it calls Mass Plywood Panel, at its Lyons plant in the Santiam River Valley.
Oregon's advantages in the CLT niche include rich and diverse timber lands, a community of progressive architects and engineers who favor innovative products, proximity to the large California market, and easy links to Pacific Rim countries for exports.
The report characterizes D.R. Johnson and other pioneers here as early adopters, saying the field needs to mature and quickly.
"If Oregon and SW Washington, a region with forest products in its collective DNA, do not continue to act with agility and haste to position communities and companies here on the path towards global (if not dominant) position in that industry/market, a substantial opportunity to restore and elevate the region's wood products manufacturing heritage will be missed."
The report suggests several ways to boost the industry here, including grants or subsidies for equipment, financing for new plants, modernizing building codes so it's easier to build taller buildings with CLT, and streamlining permitting.
The full study, entitled Advanced Wood Product Manufacturing Study for Cross-Laminated Timber Acceleration in Oregon and SW Washington is available at bit.ly/2fhpFTd