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Boosting the EWP Chain

Project > Establishing a wood-based construction industry

The construction sector is responsible for more than 23% of the total CO2 footprint globally, mostly attributed to the use of concrete. Engineered Wood Products (EWPs) have the potential to increase the sustainable use of wood in the construction industry greatly. It can reform the industry towards a much lower carbon footprint compared to traditional methods, and build a forest economy at scale. EWP can replace steel and concrete as main construction materials with wood, which reduces the carbon footprint of the industry by more than 80%. In addition to this, the carbon captured by the tree, which is normally released at the end of the life of the tree, is preserved and the CO2 is not released until the building is demolished. Even then, EWP can be recycled to a great degree. The forests that feed EWP production can be entirely sustainable, responsible, and support the re-establishment of a forest economy, also beyond the construction sector. For the Netherlands alone, we foresee a potential of more than 400 million trees planted for this purpose.  Except is  looking for funding and / or partners to help us realize this potential.

The construction industry in most countries however is not yet ready to make the transition to EWP. This is mainly due to bottlenecks in the supply chain and differences between the ‘traditional’ building process and a building process that favours EWP. A wooden building requires different planning, management, and material supply chain approach, and this faces a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma in economies where this is not yet common practice. In these cases wood is more expensive, as well as more difficult, which inhibits the adoption of the establishment of a forest economy for the construction sector.

 This project explores directions to set up a full forest-to-building supply chain for markets that do not yet have a mature wood construction industry. For this, we start with building a partner network that:

  • Informs the building sector about the differences between EWP and traditional building methods.
  • Sets up new financing schemes that make it easier to choose EWP over concrete and take full advantage of it.
  • Aims to build domestic EWP production capacity to serve as a hub for innovation and local wood supply.
  • Builds up local wood supply capacity as well as stimulating the planting of new forests as part of this sustainable supply chain.

To initiate this project, we start by executing the project in the Netherlands, a country that has the right contextual parameters for wood construction, but does not have a tradition of doing so. We aim to realize 30% of all new housing in the Netherlands to be constructed out of wood in 10 years time, resulting in the addition of 400 million sustainably managed trees.

 Step 1

Create a partner network in the Netherlands that tackles the challenges in the whole building process. From design and planning, alternative financing schemes, as well as increase domestic production capacity and local material sourcing.

 Step 2

Expand the network into other European countries that do not have a strong domestic EWP market yet and build the supply lines to connect the networks to the wood sources and the production capacity.

 Step 3

Expand the network to include countries around the world. Set up a system that can help to start building production forests from scratch and level the market for the application of EWP.

 The project is an initiative of Except Integrated Sustainability (Netherlands), and seeks seed funding to help set up the project, create the initial partnership, and kick off the supply chain development. You can endorse the project as part of the   One Trillion Trees Challenge here.

CONTEXT

Engineered Wood Products (EWP) are the collective name for a number of different wood based construction materials that can be prefabricated and engineered to a high quality and with great precision. EWPs can be used in construction as a carbon capturing alternative to concrete and steel.

 EWP can be a driver for the establishment of a forest economy in which it becomes economically feasible to maintain forests better and to expand the total amount of forest. Since the quality of the wood for EWP is less important compared to other wood based construction types, making a larger part of the forests in the world suitable for this high quality application. For example, where pine tree wood can typically only be used for low-grade construction applications, using EWP methods, it can be converted into high grade construction materials.

 As an example: much of the forest area in the Netherlands have been planted at the beginning of last century as production forest with mostly Pine, Douglas Fir, and Larch. The wood was envisioned to be a feedstock for the paper and construction industry. Eventually, the loss in the market of wood as a construction material and the cheap, high quality wood from Scandinavia have taken over a large part of this market. This wood can easily be made available for the construction industry if the supply chain, production capacity and willingness of the building sector enable this transition. At the moment, however, there is no EWP production in the Netherlands, and these production forests are underutilized, and there is no incentive to expand these forests.

 To build one normal family home from wood requires 55 cubic meters of wood product. This grows within one year on 7 hectares of a sustainably managed production forest. In the Netherlands, 50.000 new houses are built on average every year. This means that if only 30% of the house production would be wooden houses, this would stimulate over 100.000 hectares of sustainable production forest, which is only 2.4% of the surface area of the country. We believe this 30% is a reachable goal within 10 years, which would translate to 400 million trees managed in total for this production in the Netherlands alone.

 Functionally, there is little difference between a fully concrete house and a wooden one. Modern Engineered Wood Products (EWPs) are as good structurally and as safe. However, EWP is not seen as a serious competitor to concrete in many parts of the world. There are some serious advantages to EWP over concrete that are not yet on the minds of the project developers as of yet, also related to health and long term maintenance. Project management for wood construction is different for EWP compared to concrete and steel, which drives up the price in markets where it is not common. On the other hand, EWP can lead to a much shorter building time, far shorter time on site, much less waste and noise and a higher level of quality and customizability.

 The main advantages of EWP are:

  • Highly customizable.
  • Fast to assemble.
  • Clean building site.
  • High building quality.
  • Small carbon footprint.

Except Integrated Sustainability initiated this project after witnessing the state of the construction sector in Europe from its own research effort. We aim to coordinate the process to boost EWP adaptation. Our experience in sustainable architecture, combined with our widespread partner network built since 1999 gives us the insights that are needed to understand the challenges that we face in this transformation.

  MEASURES OF SUCCESS

  • Greatly increase hectares of additional forest that become available for commercial use.
  • Convert the construction sector in the Netherlands to reach at least 30% of buildings built using EWP.
  • More than 30% of concrete replaced by wood.
  • Adoption of EWP as a main construction material, first in the Netherlands, and then in other markets such as Belgium, France, and Spain.

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Except Integrated Sustainability

Tom Bosschaert
Director

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Phone   +31 10 7370215