WSU researchers have been a key partner and recently joined in the opening celebration of what will eventually be the largest cross-laminated timber (CLT) facility in the U.S.

Katerra, a California-based company, opened a 270,000-square-foot facility in Spokane last week that will eventually produce more than 11 million square feet of floors and roofs and employ up to 150 workers. Researchers in WSU’s Composite Materials Engineering Center (CMEC) helped Katerra develop advanced technologies used to make CLT and has supported the burgeoning industry.

CLT is a relatively new building material in North America that has significant advantages in sustainability over many traditional construction materials. Made from small-diameter timber that is thinned from forests, use of the wood product can help to improve forest health and reduce fire risk, said Don Bender, WSU CMEC director and Weyerhaeuser Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Rather than allowing it to burn, using timber for CLT reduces polluting carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, he added.

WSU and Katerra have enjoyed a strong private-public relationship, working together to develop supply chains for CLT and conducting research and testing to refine manufacturing methods, said Bender.

“WSU has a long history of working side-by-side with companies in testing and evaluating manufacturing processes such as those being used by Katerra,” he said. “In particular, WSU is working with Katerra to ensure that CLT resins, processing parameters, timber species, and all facets of the engineered wood product perform to strict codes. We help close technology gaps so that Katerra has the most durable and safe product for its customers.”

In addition to its work with Katerra, WSU CMEC researchers are also working with Colville-based Vaagen Timbers. The company is developing a CLT facility that will specialize in panels that can be rapidly produced using an accelerated resin curing system. The WSU researchers are providing technical consultation to the company and will be partnering on a new, mass-timber housing venture in Spokane.

“CLT is a part of reducing the carbon footprint of building construction,” said Bender. “Wood that is manufactured in facilities such as Vaagen Timbers or Katerra is a great resource to replace steel and concrete building materials, which are energy-intensive, and helps to reduce a structure’s carbon footprint. Wood also sequesters carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere, which is helpful to reducing climate change.  Another important advantage of CLT is shorter construction times.”

The WSU team is also continuing work with the Composites Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula to produce construction‑grade CLT panels that incorporate recycled carbon fiber from the aviation industry. The Port Angeles-based project’s goal is development of a new manufacturing facility on the Olympic Peninsula, which could create as much as 50 new jobs in a rural area of the state of Washington, hard hit by declines in the timber industry.

“As the state of Washington continues to implement clean building building technologies and codes, CLT is a great material choice,” said Bender. “If we can further improve CLT by using recycled carbon fiber, we may be creating a more durable, stable construction material while reusing and recycling carbon fiber material and reducing waste bound for landfills.”

Port Angeles, located near the Olympic National Forest, has an abundance of western hemlock trees, which are usually seen as less commercially valuable and could be used for CLT manufacturing.  The WSU-CRTC team is investigating thermal modification of western hemlock – a tree species prevalent on the Olympic Peninsula — to make it a preferred feedstock for CLT through improvements in durability and dimensional stability.

“WSU CMEC is deeply commited to two-way community engagement and collaborating with our partners in the private, public, and non-profit sectors to accelerate a new manufacturing industry in the state of Washington,” said Bender. “CLT and similar mass timber products have the potential to address the diverse needs of the state’s communities from creating new manufacturing jobs to ensuring healthy forests to building affordable homes in urban areas. That’s a win-win-win for the state of Washington.”