New Grant will Continue to pursue Hardwood lumber for Cross-laminated Timber (CLT)*

By Henry Quesada

*Published in the August 2019 Newsletter of the Virginia Loggers Association

The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech has secured $249,000 from the US Forest Service to continue research on the use of hardwood lumber for the manufacturing of structural cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels.

Currently, there is no market for hardwood lumber in structural CLT panels because APA/PRG 320, the CLT standard, does not allow it. According to the standard, only softwood lumber can be used for structural CTL panels. However, a CLT mill interested in manufacturing and selling hardwood CLT panels for structural use could pursue a custom certification by a third party to make hardwood CLT panels available to the construction market.

CLT panel made of yellow poplar

In this project, Virginia Tech will work with Smartlam in Montana to produce CLT panels made of yellow poplar. The panels will be tested by APA. Hardwood organizations such as the Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, the National Hardwood Lumber Association, and the Hardwood Manufacturers Association are partnering with Virginia Tech to promote the project among their members and to find potential donors of yellow poplar lumber for the manufacturing of the CLT panels to be tested.

Another barrier that this new project is addressing is the structural grading of hardwood lumber. Currently, grading of hardwood lumber is based on appearance and not on structural performance. Rules to grade hardwood lumber have been developed but no one producing hardwood lumber is using these rules, mostly because there is no market for structural hardwood lumber. This new grant will work with NELMA, a grading agency, to train hardwood sawmills on structural grades for hardwood lumber.

Other factors that might impact the use of hardwood lumber for structural CLT panels are:

  • Prices: Prices of #1 and #2 softwood lumber are usually less than $450 per thousand board feet. However, species such as yellow poplar and soft maple might have a chance to compete in terms of prices.
  • Volume: A medium size CLT mill will produce around 50,000 m3 or 21.2 million board feet per year. An average hardwood sawmill produces less than 20 million board feet per year. Several hardwood sawmills would work together in order to supply lumber to such a CLT mill.
  • Dimensions: Hardwood lumber is currently produced in random widths and CLT panels require fixed widths.
  • Adhesion: Chemical companies have been able to produce glues that work very well with softwood species such as spruce, Douglas fir, and southern yellow pine. The same glues have been used successfully with yellow poplar but other hardwood species might require a different formulation.

The market for CLT panels in the US is expected to reach over 2 million m3 or 850 million board feet in the next 10 years. The current manufacturing capacity in the US is less than 200,000 m3. This represents a huge opportunity for the hardwood industry.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact Dr. Henry Quesada at quesada@vt.edu.

2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

2019 Annual report of the Center for Products Business

Dear Colleagues:

Hello from your Center,

It is hard to believe that another year has passed and we will soon be welcoming 175 students back to our department.  Many of you have hired them for summer internships and I want to thank you for helping us with their education.  The department remains committed to have our students prepared to “hit the road running” when they graduate, and your internships are vital for them getting experience in the forest products industry.  We currently have one of the largest undergraduate enrollment in the department’s 40 year history.  We graduated over 50 students last May, with most of them finding employment within the industry. 

Cochran Fellows during their visit to Chips Inc. sawmill in June.

As you are probably aware, the new generation of student (and future employee) is somewhat different than when I started in the industry in 1974.  While the baby boomer generation was interested in finding a long-term career and moving up the ladder, students today have different goals (and maybe better).  They are more concerned about social responsibility, sustainability, serving society, and participating in decision making, than the bottom line on the balance sheet.  They tend to stay with companies for less time and are more mobile than my generation.  To help meet this changing need, the department hired a new faculty in the area of the circular economy that started this August.  She will be focusing on the life-cycle analysis and recycling as it applies to the biomaterials’ industry.  I share this with you to let you know we are adjusting our departments’ instructional techniques and classes to meet this new student.  Our classes focus on hands-on learning techniques and team building skills so they know how to effectively work with others in a job environment.  Repeatedly, when we ask employers what do students need to be successful, it is their social, leadership, communication, and organizational skills that rate higher than their technical skills to be successful in your organizations.

On a personal note, in preparation for my retirement in 2021, I am stepping down at Department Head the end of this year.  There is currently a job search being conducted to find my replacement. We hope to have someone in place by January. It has been an honor to serve in this role for seven years, and now I must plan for my next adventure in life.  I want to thank you for your continued support of our programs.  I hope you will contact us with your needs for employees or summer interns.  Many of our classes have projects and if you need a short specific project investigated, please contact me and I will see if we can work it into a class.  Please feel free to contact me with any comments or suggestions to improve the program (rsmith4@vt.edu).  Again, thanks for your support of our students and I wish you a successful year.

To access the full report, please follow this link.

Sincerely,

Bob Smith

2018 Annual Report of the Center for Forest Products Business

Dear Colleagues:

Dr. Robert Smith, Director the Center for Forest Products Business

It is hard to believe that another year has gone by and I am here wondering again what to share with you about the Center.  Three months ago, we graduated 40 students from our program and some of them are now working in your companies. Our department’s undergraduate program has grown to nearly 200 students, and it is probably the largest in the country.  We believe the changes we have made in recent years regarding our undergraduate degrees and our name change are starting to attract a broader range of students to our profession.  I have often told students that our program is the applied field of business, engineering, physics, or chemistry to our natural resources and wood.  Whether it is the student who has a business interest and wants to go into international marketing or the student who has an engineering interest and wants to lean up your mill, our undergraduate program allows students to apply these disciplines to wood products. We remain committed to providing the best marketing, manufacturing, and business education in forest products in North America.  Our goal remains to attract and train good students who can help your companies compete in this changing world marketplace.

I have now completed six years as the department head.  It is nice being back in the department with my colleagues and directing such a successful endeavor.  We are fortunate to have some of the leading scientists in our field working in the department. I want to thank those of you who took time to visit us this past year and spend time with our students.  Your interest and experience help us demonstrate the great opportunities that exist for careers in wood products.  Students always comment on how they love to hear from our industry partners. Your internships, scholarships and job opportunities demonstrate the partnership that is needed to help us attract and train your future employees. If you would like to visit the department and speak with our students, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Your center has had a good year.  Our faculty accomplishments are listed later in this report. We awarded over $25,000 of scholarships in 2017 and will award nearly that amount again in 2018. Your donations make this possible and allow us to better train our students for this changing wood products industry. We have updated our website to provide more information, so please visit us at http://www.cfpb.vt.edu    I thank you for your continued support of our center. If there is anything I can do, please feel free to contact me at 540-231-7679 or rsmith4@vt.edu.

Follow this link to download the full report.

 

FSMIP/USDA project report on wooden social housing in Latin America

By Henry Quesada, quesada@vt.edu

A wooden social home in Costa Rica made with Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) imported from the United States.

Sustainable housing is one of the fundamental necessities for socio-economic development. Yet a considerable population of the developing world is living in substandard houses. On the other hand, developed countries like the United States have substantially improved the residential construction sector by engineering new materials and developing efficient systems.

This study attempts to link this supply capacity of the system built wood construction sector in the United States to urban low-income housing markets in the Latin-American region. Expansion to new markets and diversification to new products can rejuvenate this industry in the U.S. Linking the manufacturer with potential buyers overseas would need efficient production, logistics and marketing systems. This research is focused on product development for bottom-of-the pyramid buyers to give them an affordable yet sustainable alternative to traditional systems. Interviews and survey tools were used to assess key aspects of housing deficits in target demographics of the South and Central American regions. System built wood construction manufacturers in the U.S. were assessed to identify barriers and incentives for internationalization and how they differ from exporting to non-exporting manufacturers within the same industry. Findings indicate that developing products for social housing programs can provide access to potential untapped markets. Lack of existing wood construction in some of the selected markets indicates the possibility of resistance to acceptance but also assures no local competition. The learnings can also contribute to opening of new markets for exports of prefabricated wooden buildings in other housing sectors.

Click here to download the full report.