Oregon firm first in U.S. OK’d for cross-laminated timber

Vancouver business made equipment for manufacturer

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EUGENE, Ore. — A Southern Oregon company has become the first in the United States to be certified to produce cross-laminated timber, a product that could provide an economic shot in the arm for rural communities.

Cross-laminated timber, or CLT, products will be produced by D.R. Johnson, a Riddle firm. The material “could make Oregon a supplier for the next generation skyscraper and produce more jobs in rural communities,” according to state economic development officials.

CLT is made by bonding together perpendicular layers of dimensional lumber, such as 2-by-4s, to create panels used for walls, floors and roofs. The panels can be up to 13 feet wide, 65 feet long and 15 inches thick.

Advocates say CLT offers the strength of concrete and steel, allowing for its use in the construction of tall buildings, and is cheaper and faster to build with.

It also possesses a “green” benefit, they say: It’s made from a renewable resource and, because wood captures and holds rather than emits carbon dioxide, its use can offset the greenhouse gases expended elsewhere in a building’s construction. The technology also allows the use of smaller pieces of wood that can’t be used in traditional glulam beams.

Although D.R. Johnson is the first — and so far only — U.S. company to be certified by the American Plywood Association to produce CLT, the product is already in use in Canada and Europe.

“The market for CLT is growing,” D.R. Johnson President Valerie Johnson said. “We are either under contract or in design conversations with over a dozen projects along the West Coast. Demand is there, and we expect other manufacturers may enter the market soon.”

The company is producing 24-foot-long panels that will be used at four construction projects in Oregon, including at Western Oregon University and the Albina Yard project in northwest Portland.

Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg also has expressed interest in using CLT to build a parking garage in Springfield. And a Portland developer is reportedly planning a 135-foot-tall building made of CLT in the city’s Pearl District.

In January, state building regulators adopted provisions that allow the use of CLT in taller buildings. They had previously allowed the use of CLT in houses and small commercial buildings; the change allowed its use in buildings up to five stories tall.

To introduce the manufacturing technology to rural Oregon, Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, said it will make a $100,000 loan to D.R. Johnson to offset the costs of building out the new production line. Vancouver-based USNR designed and manufactured the equipment for D.R. Johnson.

Oregon BEST previously spent $150,000 on CLT research at Oregon State University and development of the production process at D.R. Johnson.

BEST was set up by the state about eight years ago to help promote and develop clean technology innovation.

State officials compared the CLT initiative to another technology the state has invested in — unmanned aerial systems — saying that both are intended to “spur higher wage innovation jobs, connect rural and urban economies and capitalize on Oregon’s natural assets to make us globally competitive.”

Gov. Kate Brown made the CLT announcement Thursday at BEST Fest, an annual clean tech innovation conference in Portland.

The governor also announced the launch of a $200,000 CLT design competition co-sponsored by Oregon BEST and a new collaboration between Oregon State University and University of Oregon called the National Center for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design.

The competition opens Oct. 1 and is aimed at helping Oregon remain the national leader in CLT manufacturing by speeding up its adoption in the marketplace, state officials said.

“The goal of this competition, and the $200,000 in funding and services that will be awarded to the winning project, is to encourage more developers and builders to use cross-laminated timber,” said Johanna Brickman, director of collaborative innovation at Oregon BEST. “CLT is a great example of clean technology that benefits both rural Oregon communities and urban centers.”