Time for timber?

Time for timber

23/08/2013 Written by: Andrew Wylie/ Natasha Watson

As forests are capable of absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide as they grow, they are of key importance in our fight to reduce the effects of climate change and are known as carbon sinks.  However recently, an article in Nature Climate Change reported that  researchers have found European forests are showing early signs of saturation, suggesting that they are not capable of sequestering as much carbon dioxide as previously thought.

The authors suggest maintaining this natural carbon sink by harvesting a select number of mature forests to promote continuous wood production.  In other words, it’s time for more timber construction as the carbon dioxide sequestered in trees as they grow, is locked into the building during construction and therefore for the rest of the building’s life. However in general, accounting for carbon sequestration is complex as poor disposal techniques at the end of the building’s life, such as sending timber to landfill, could mean all the sequestered carbon in the timber is released again.

The construction industry faces a major but potentially achievable challenge to ensure that sequestered carbon remains locked into timber buildings for generations to come.  Possible solutions include building in flexibility enabling buildings to be adapted for multiple uses and increasing the value that the building and/or its components have at the end of their life  This can be achieved through the development of reusable timber components that can be installed on a new project.

BuroHappold promotes replacing traditional carbon intensive materials in construction with timber, to deliver stunning as well as highly sustainable structures; timber based projects include The Caretaker’s House , University of Exeter Forum , John Hope Gateway, Wales Institute for Sustainable Education, and Lake Bunyoni.

These innovations in timber design are part of BuroHappold’s wider knowledge and research into sustainable building materials, which includes investment in research to promote the use of low impact building materials, adaptable facades, and new materials such as aerogel and phase change materials. Buildings of the future must look to materials from the past if we are to solve some of our world’s most pressing issues such as carbon emissions and resource scarcity…

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