Cross-Laminated Timber & Wood-Based Foam: The Latest Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Remember the days when building construction added up to startling amounts of carbon waste and petrochemical plastic use? Well, now we’re in an era of eco-friendly buildings and sustainable materials that are changing the construction industry from the ground up. Let’s look a little closer at two materials that are gaining traction in residential and commercial projects right now to understand how they work and their promising applications.

Cross-Laminated Timber

Cross-laminated timber isn’t a brand new material, but it has been getting a lot of attention lately because of the tallest and largest building of its kind is being built in London. Designed for a residential project in Hackney, the buildings will use over 3,500 cubic meters of sustainable timber and reach 10 stories tall.

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This material is lighter in weight than concrete, which is beneficial in areas where railways lie underneath city streets. The timber has been used in projects all over the UK lately, including buildings in Bristol and Norwich. Affordable housing in London continues to be a challenge, as at least 50,000 new homes are needed to keep up with current demand, per recent surveys.

According to an engineer on the project, Gavin White, using this timber instead of traditional materials is saving 2,400 tons of carbon and using 50 percent less emissions. Not only is the method of building construction more eco-friendly, but so is transporting materials and developing the site. White’s firm claims that the embodied carbon of cross-laminated timber is 2.5 times less than that of concrete.

Wood-Based Foam

Another building material making waves in the construction industry right now is wood-derived foam, which stands to replace traditional foam made from petrochemical plastics. These plastics are derived from petroleum and natural gas, taking a toll on Earth’s natural resources. Foam is used in construction, as well as many other industries, including manufacturing, retail, and science.

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However, one of the new foam material’s most promising uses is for building insulation. The material was developed by researchers at Braunschweig’s Frauhofer Institute for Wood Research at the Wilhelm-Klauditz Institut. And it even won a GreenTec Award this year for its construction applications.

“Our wood foam can be used in exactly the same way as conventional plastic foams, but is an entirely natural product made from sustainable raw materials,” said Professor Volker Thole, department head for process technology and system technology for wood-based materials at the institution.

Thole and his team say that the wood foam product can be recycled after it’s used, which is a big advantage over conventional foam. It’s made by finely grinding wood into tiny particles and then adding gas to expand the substance into a frothy foam-like substance. The new foam is allowed to harden and has been compared to the process whereby dough rises and sets while baking bread.

The lightweight wood foam can be easily cut and modified for building uses. In insulation, the wood-based foam is designed to not collapse under its own weight when it becomes wet, making it advantageous to other foam alternatives. It’s resistance to humidity and pressure makes it especially promising for engineers who are passionate about affordable eco-friendly design.

These projects and many others are in the research and testing phase, with hopes of being rolled out for commercialization in the very near future. It’s an exciting time to be in this industry, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it!

Photo credit: Nicole Larkin and PROQuinn Dombrowski via Flickr

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