The growing environmental awareness is undoubtedly a key driver behind the adoption of technologies that support the efficient use of forest resources. Lean industrial procedures, structural connectors, and adhesive systems are used to develop high-performance and reliable engineered wood products for the building sector (Mallo, 2017). Among notable innovations in recent years is cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel, a durable and versatile building material. While the technology has been adopted in Canada and Austria as a cost-effective alternative to concrete or steel, in the U.S., CLT panels have been used in only a few projects.
Current trends and needs of the sector indicate a shift towards greater utilization of CLT. Multiple benefits could come from this transition, including lower thermal loads of structures and reduced energy costs due to fewer joints (Mallo, 2017). CLT is an optimal building material in seismic areas and has a lesser carbon footprint than steel or concrete. Therefore, increased CLT uptake has significant economic and environmental benefits for the building sector. This research proposal seeks to identify various issues potentially limiting the adoption of CLT in the U.S. and address potential barriers to speed up the transition to CLT use.
The U.S. has a highly developed and project-based building sector. Though market opportunities exist, the adoption of cost-efficient building materials, such as CLT, by actors is low. CLT is valued for its aesthetic features and durability compared to concrete or steel; however, its uptake in the construction industry has been slow. Several barriers to the utilization of CLT panels in the building industry limit a transition to CLT. Additionally, low manufacturing capacity in the U.S. has an impact on CLT supply. Specifically, to meet the high domestic demand, large amounts of CLT are brought in from Canada or Austria at a higher cost due to transportation charges. Opportunities for increased local production exist despite the many barriers to adoption. Addressing these limiting factors could favor a transition to CLT use by contractors and construction firms.
- To identify barriers to increased adoption of CLT in U.S. markets and determine the most critical ones
- To address each of the potential barriers to increasing the deployment of CLT in the U.S. building sector.
Scope of the Research
The proposed study will focus on CLT utilization levels in the building sector. It aims to identify the factors that limit the widespread use of engineered wood products such as CLT in the U.S. Since the building sector accounts for significant carbon emissions, there is a need to focus on efficient technologies that would reduce its carbon footprint.
Significance of the Study
Lowering the carbon emissions from the building sector in the U.S. is important given the rapid expansion of construction projects and the need to meet international targets. Since steel and concrete are associated with adverse effects on the environment, a heightened utilization of CLT can be a pathway to reducing construction waste and adopting sustainable practices. Therefore, identifying and addressing barriers to increased use of CLT is critical to achieving these goals.
Issues Limiting the Adoption of CLT
The main constraints to CLT uptake are identified from a review of a recent study in this area. The most significant barrier based on a survey of engineering firms is the limited availability of CLT in the U.S. market (Mallo, 2017). Only three manufacturers operate in the US, out of which two are licensed to supply CLT panels designed for buildings. Another large or potential barrier is cost. Extended construction time can lead to costly projects in terms of labor (Mallo, 2017). Another factor potentially limiting CLT uptake in the U.S. is code acceptance. CLT compatibility with building code requirements impedes its use in structures. Another likely barrier is the unavailability of technical information about the CLT material. Thus, informational measures, including the provision of CLT building guides, incorporation of the technology in curricula, and capacity building initiatives involving manufacturers and users, are important.
Another limiting factor identified in the literature is the amount of wood needed to produce CLT panels as a significant barrier. CLT systems use thrice as much as the quantity of timber spent in wood-frame structures. However, most professionals are not familiar with CLT wood consumption. Additional limiting factors were the lack of experience and low contractor education. Thus, most structural engineers may not take up CLT due to intermediate levels of awareness in this group. Scarce informational resources on design procedures for CLT and end-user experiences also limit uptake. Their limited experience with CLT and material availability in the market is the other critical barriers. The slow rate of uptake of new material in the building sector is also a limiting factor. Thus, there is a tendency among actors to favor well-established products such as concrete or steel. An absence of demonstration projects and educational programs domestically also impedes the widespread adoption of CLT in the country.
Addressing Potential Barriers
An array of mechanisms can be implemented to increase CLT uptake in the U.S. They range from financial to informational and supply measures. Professionals and construction firms already familiar with the technology are very likely to adopt CLT in their projects (Mallo, 2017). Industrial alliances with textile firms, the use of efficient production technologies, and vertical integration with distributors can address the barrier of CLT availability domestically. Informational strategies for informing structural engineering firms about CLT suppliers can also increase adoption.
Cost, as a limiting factor, can be addressed through financial measures and efficient manufacturing models. According to Mallo (2017), potential labor costs and time savings should be emphasized in educational programs for engineering companies. Further, financial measures, such as subsidies for manufacturing companies, can reduce overall CLT costs. The cost-competitiveness of CLT can also be derived from increasing manufacturing operations within the U.S. Addressing building code compatibility would require collaboration among companies, architects, engineers, universities, and suppliers. The limitation related to the unavailability of technical information can be tackled through the dissemination of CLT building standards and guides to the actors in this sector.
Informational measures and educational programs can help address the issue of CLT wood consumption. The amount of timber required to produce CLT panels can be determined, which will then be used as a benchmark for calculating material cost. Educational programs can be useful in addressing contractor education to boost CLT knowledge. Collaboration among actors is critical in the design procedure when using CLT materials.
The proposed study will be based on secondary and primary data sources. A case study approach will be used to identify barriers to CLT uptake and examine ways of increasing adoption among U.S. engineering and construction firms. Secondary data will be derived from the literature review – publications on barriers to increased utilization of CLT and solutions. Qualitative questionnaires returned by actors (experts in CLT production and use) will provide primary data. The literature review will help triangulate these responses using a synthesis matrix. Solutions for addressing each of the identified barriers will be formulated based on the main themes.
Data Collection and Analysis
The first step will involve a literature review to collect secondary data. Information from relevant publications will form the foundation for recommendations suited for each barrier. The review will also add to existing knowledge of the U.S. building sector, wood industry, available technical capacities, and CLT advantages over other materials.
Regarding data collection procedures, industry actors from the US will complete web-based questionnaires to identify potential limiting factors to CLT adoption and their solutions. The selection of the sample will be based on specified inclusion criteria: years of experience in building, location, and sub-sector. In this regard, the respondents will include domestic CLT suppliers, architects, structural engineers, consultants, and regulators.
Data analysis will involve the triangulation of secondary data with the responses collected. The coding of qualitative data using key phrases will be the second step. A subsequent thematic analysis will be used to identify barriers to CLT uptake and the solutions recommended. Specific limiting factors revealed this way will then be compared with those gleaned from the literature. Successful examples of strategies for promoting CLT adoption from other regions will be considered at this stage. Ultimately, recommendations for improving CLT uptake in the U.S. will be given based on qualitative data and best practices identified in the literature.
Mallo, M. F. L. (2017). Critical factors in the willingness to adopt innovative wood-based building materials in the construction industry: The case of CLT (Publication No. 10639695) [Doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.