A forest of possibilities  


In the October 2018 issue of GASCO News – a quarterly publication of the NGC Group of Companies – one of the most exciting and promising projects, which could truly transform the local construction industry and become a new source of foreign exchange earnings, was profiled.

As odd as it may sound to us in this part of the world, wood is experiencing something of a renaissance in its applicability and relevance as a building material for the future. A relatively new, engineered wood product known as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has emerged as a game changer. While it sounds rather simple – panels made by gluing together layers of lumber – the result of this precisely engineered process is nothing short of amazing.

The GASCO News article highlighted the history and great potential for the use of CLT locally and for export, as well as the reasons that the manufacturing of CLT products may be a suitable endeavour for us to pursue. While no further information on the feasibility study for a CLT industry has been forthcoming, the possibilities are truly exciting.

Its use dates back to the early 1990s in Austria, and today, CLT is being used to construct mid to high-rise buildings, including an 18-storey tower in Norway. CLT has even gained traction in the tropical climate of Singapore, with the government regulatory agencies changing their building codes to accommodate its use.

CLT’s benefits are vast, quite surprising, and include the following:

Strength and stability that result in the ability to use it for an entire building, even structural components.

Fire resistance that may in fact be superior to concrete and steel. Should a fire break out, CLT is said to retain its structural integrity better than steel. It also chars very slowly.

The fact that Japan, one of the most seismically active countries in the world, has adopted CLT should be reassurance of its ability to withstand earthquakes. In fact, tests showed that a 7-storey CLT building in Japan survived 14 consecutive tremors of magnitude 7.2.

CLT can offer superior insulation, meaning that costs for cooling buildings can be substantially lower. The material can allow for the maintenance of indoor temperatures using a third of the energy normally required for cooling.

When the production process is managed carefully and uses sustainably grown timber as its input, the environmental benefits of CLT can be quite profound. Not only is wood a renewable building material, it can also be found in abundance locally and regionally – according to NGC – and the CLT manufacturing process is less energy intensive overall than that of concrete and steel. As an added bonus, building material can be recycled at the time of demolition.

Although hurricanes are a constant threat to us in this region, and concrete and steel construction gives us an added sense of safety from high winds, early tests are showing that CLT also stands up very well under high wind pressure.

The availability of the major raw material, timber, is one of the reasons that it was decided to study the feasibility of a manufacturing industry for CLT locally. The other major reason, however, is that the adhesives used to glue the CLT panels together can be made from melamine, a derivative of ammonia that is produced at Point Lisas.

While this is certainly a logical use of our melamine, there are also other concerns that we should consider. Looking to the future, melamine-based adhesives may soon fall out of favour due to concerns about exposure to formaldehyde, when these adhesives are used in internal spaces. Formaldehyde, according to the Centers for Disease Control is a “highly toxic systemic poison that is absorbed well by inhalation.”

The potential risk of exposure is not even necessary. Cheap, biodegradable and non-volatile polyurethane adhesives are already in use worldwide, and much preferred for their environmental and health implications.

The use of a by-product of local industry may seem like a good reason to venture down this path, but it would also represent yet another way in which an attempt at diversification is still tied to the petrochemical sector.

Despite the possible concerns regarding the health implications of formaldehyde-releasing adhesives, a CLT manufacturing industry is a forward-thinking idea that we should attempt to capitalize on. The potential for CLT in TT is promising and it is one of the few initiatives that I am truly excited about. I hope that the government and/or the private sector takes another look at this venture, but reconsiders using an alternative, safer and more environmentally-friendly adhesive, to make this an even “greener” endeavour.

Ryan Darmanie is a professional urban planning and design consultant, and an avid observer of people, their habitat, and the resulting socio-economic and political dynamics. You can connect with him at darmanieplanningdesign.com or email him at ryan@darmanieplanningdesign.com


"A forest of possibilities  "

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