The use of wood in construction, and increased innovation in the sector is helping fulfil a growing need for sustainable housing, according to participants at a Nordic forestry COP23 side-event this week.
Participants heard how substituting high carbon concrete and steel for wood can dramatically cut emissions, and if properly designed, wooden buildings can stand for centuries, acting as a carbon store.
Mark Hughes, a professor of wood technology at Aalto University in Finland put the CO2 captured in the global production of sawn wood and wood-based panels at 750 million tonnes – a significant proportion of global emissions.
A few years ago, it would be a rare sight to see a building of more than two storeys built from wood. You might have wooden cladding on the exterior or in flooring, but you could be quite certain that behind it there would be concrete or steel carrying the building.
Today in Sweden, over ten percent of new multi-storey buildings are built mostly from wood. Mikael Eliasson, CEO of Swedish Wood, says the goal is to get a much higher share, and expand the use of wood as a load bearing construction material into new markets.
Forestry in the Data age
Innovation is not just happening in the use of wooden materials.
Pasi Aalto, director for NTNU Wood, a centre that advances wood based projects, studies and initiatives, presented a big data system that maps the amount of wood in the forest and then correlates that with projected need for new housing in the same area.
The system enables forestry and building industries – and intermediaries like transport – get tools to see whether supply and demand for construction wood match, helping the industry plan ahead, and potentially informing city planners when best to start developments.
The plan could also give a long-term projection of available side-stream materials like wood chips and sawdust, informing decisions on how to best utilize these as a resource in places like biorefineries.
A new bioeconomy
Other examples from the COP23 ‘Nordic Bioeconomy Day’ focused on how bio-based raw materials in a number of sectors can be better utilised, leading to new products and revenue streams without harvesting more raw materials.
One example presented was the development of whey based products, normally a waste product in cheese production. Instead of discarding it, it’s begun to be developed into sports and infant nutrition products, creating even greater revenue than the cheese production itself.
Professor Lene Lange from Technical University of Denmark stressed the need to see these kind of opportunities in the “sidestreams” of more industrial processes, like fish by-catch and slaughterhouse waste.
“This way we can use the already harvested material better, freeing up land for biodiversity and meeting the need for food and products at the same time.”
“We can actually have our cake and eat it,”
Interested to know more about Climate-KIC at COP23? Find out what other side events Climate-KIC is organising in the Bonn Zone here.