Mass Timber: Connecting Nature and Technology for Sustainability

In a world desperate to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, each mass timber factory is a life raft. They are carbon sequestration factories as much as they are manufacturing facilities. Harvesting fibre for the benefit of the planet, at first, seems incredibly backward. However, when you dive into the science and the technology behind this process, we find that mass timber actually benefits our planet in the long run.

Carbon Impact

Here at Mercer Mass Timber (MMT), we strive for sustainability day in and day out – and cross-laminated timber (CLT) is the driving force behind it all. Mass timber comprises multiple solid wood panels that are glued together and are exceptionally strong, akin to steel or concrete. A level of mass timber is CLT, made from gluing together layers of solid-sawn lumber and is considered a wood panel product in itself. Compared to manufacturing steel and concrete, harvesting trees to create timber products emits significantly fewer greenhouse gases. But the real impact is how carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the wood. In summary, two driving factors in mass timber’s potential to have negative carbon impacts are avoided emissions and sequestered carbon.

CO2 emissions from equivalent designs of a large office building. Source: WoodWorks

The manufacturing process of mass timber uses less energy and emits less carbon than concrete and steel, which is considered avoided emissions. Sequestering carbon is a bit more complicated; in short, trees and their wood products take CO2 from both the surrounding atmosphere and water from the land, storing the carbon that would otherwise be emitted back into the atmosphere.

What About the Future?

Dramatically reducing the carbon emission from the construction industry is a priority in order to reach emission reduction targets. Currently, construction materials are responsible for around 11% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

As building energy efficiency improves and the planet rapidly urbanizes, embodied carbon (the carbon emitted during the transport of building materials) is estimated to be responsible for almost half of new construction emissions between now and 2050. Utilizing construction materials with lower embodied carbon can significantly reduce a building’s negative environmental impacts.

Global CO2 Emissions by Sector

Even without considering carbon sequestration, prioritizing the use of mass timber in construction projects would result in a significant drop in avoided carbon emissions.

Technology-First Approach

When it comes to the production of CLT panels, MMT focuses on utilizing the most advanced technology to avoid creating any additional waste throughout the process. We are setting the industry standard for tracking and monitoring lamstock, glueline, and panels as they progress throughout production. Every lamination will have its characteristics measured and tracked from beginning to end, providing transparency and assurance of quality. Mass timber building systems enable increased construction productivity, with automated fabrication in a controlled factory environment. Our technology-first approach leverages manufacturing innovation from across industries to optimize not only sustainability, but also production speed, efficiency, and quality.

Nature’s Calling

Humans have an affinity for natural elements and nature, which is called the biophilia effect. Studies have found that subjects perceive wood as “warm,” “inviting,” “homey,” and “relaxing” compared to other tested materials, and demonstrate physiological and psychological benefits when looking at wood. We instinctively want to be around nature and it’s known to increase feelings of overall wellness and productivity. In replacing concrete and steel with mass timber, future construction projects create not just places of home or business, but they create positive effects on overall well-being.

 

While we still have a ways to go in reducing carbon emissions, the future of mass timber is vast and limitless. Creating a sustainable, technology-focused product that also helps humans feel more connected to nature? That’s a win-win-win.


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