Engineered wood product industry helps lower carbon emissions and create jobs


Gov. Jay Inslee joined state leaders to celebrate a mass timber manufacturing facility in Spokane Friday that could usher in a new chapter of building green — or at least, greener than building construction has operated in the past.

“This is just one example of how we can create jobs, transition to a cleaner economy and build new infrastructure with a lower carbon footprint through innovation,” Inslee said. “Our state leads in so many ways, and now Washington will lead the nation in manufacturing cross-laminated timber for buildings. This is a leap forward for sustainable construction and economic development in our state.”

The governor toured the facility with Senator Maria Cantwell and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

Gov. Jay Inslee asks a Katerra employee a question about cross-laminated timber during a tour of the Spokane facility, Sept. 20, 2019 with Commissioner Hilary Franz, Senator Maria Cantwell and others. (Office of the Governor photo)

The cross-laminated timber factory started production in July. Todd Beyreuther, senior director of advanced building materials at Katerra, said it will bring approx. 150 manufacturing jobs to the City of Spokane Valley and 50 research, design, engineering and construction jobs to City of Spokane.

“The value to the state is we’re delivering high-performance buildings by using advanced manufacturing,” he said. “We’re taking the same mindset and approach from the aerospace industry to the building industry.”

Here’s how the cross-laminated timber comes together: Layers of sustainably forested wood timber are stacked on top of each other. Each layer is laid at a 90-degree angle to the layer beneath it, basically alternating the direction. Then, they’re glued together to create large timber panels to use as a wall or a floor — which makes a strong, stiff product.

“Timber is the only renewable structural material,” Beyreuther said. “What it really means for Washington and urban densification is that it helps us build multi-family housing in the 4–12 story range that is currently difficult with other materials.”

A stack of cross-laminated timber rests at the Catalyst Building site in Spokane. (Photo courtesy of McKinstry Co.)

This engineered wood product could positively influence the construction industry for two reasons. One, a lower carbon footprint. And two, lower cost.

Lower carbon footprint

Indroneil Ganguly said CLT is becoming more accepted worldwide because of its environmental benefits. Ganguly is an associate professor at the University of Washington who has studied the environmental impacts of wood products and CLT for more than 12 years.

“It’s providing the same functional benefit at the lower carbon footprint,” Ganguly said. “I would say the wood products sector definitely contributes to our clean job economy. In some cases, it provides the same benefit we’re getting in renewable fuels.”

When you build with wood, you’re using a product that already removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and trapped it inside the wood — it will stay that way for at least the life of the building.

From left to right: Craig Kurtis (head of architecture at Katerra), Traci Couture (district director for Cathy McMorris Rodgers), Gov. Jay Inslee, Michael Marks (CEO and co-founder of Katerra), Senator Maria Cantwell, Commissioner Hilary Franz. (Office of the Governor photo)

Each year, Washington emits more than 94 million tons of carbon dioxide (mainly from cars and manufacturing processes), which contributes to global warming and climate change. Ganguly said his research states the private wood product sector takes away about 12 percent of that amount.

“CLT is not a silver bullet but it can work as a catalyst to rejuvenate our wood products sector,” Ganguly said. “That may increase economic viability and forest management and help improve forest health and wildfire reduction.”

Lower cost

The state could eventually see more affordable housing options through buildings constructed with cross-laminated timber because it’s much cheaper to build with wood than it is to build with concrete and steel.

At 12 stories, concrete and steel start to make more sense in terms of costs. But it’s the spot between 6 and 12 stories that make it harder to justify the cost of using steel and concrete, and CLT could make it cost effective.

“For every factory manufacturing job, there is approximately one job in a rural economy for timber harvesting and milling,” Beyreuther said. “So, there’s a strong rural and urban connection in this.”

Vaagen Timbers in Colville is another business that manufactures CLT products. Although there are only two Washington businesses in the CLT industry, Beyreuther said the Pacific Northwest will eventually see a much higher demand — especially since CLT facilities will need to partner with logging businesses and saw mills.

“It creates and triggers a whole chain of employment that goes down to logging and harvesting and rejuvenating some of the rural economies that lost a lot of their capacity,” Ganguly said.

The governor toured Spokane’s Catalyst Building site in June when there was nothing on site but gravel and a foundation. The first products that Katerra started producing were CLT panels for that site. (Photo courtesy of McKinstry Co.)

Inslee helped recruit an operating Katerra facility to Washington in June 2017. The factory is the largest of its kind in the nation. The 2017 state operating budget provided $150,000 to promote mass timber and build the CLT plant. Katerra’s first CLT project will construct the Catalyst Building, which will be completed in spring 2020.

“In my mind, this is as big as electric cars for carbon reduction efforts because wood products help in multiple ways,” Ganguly said. “Our forests that produce wood products capture some of the carbon that energy-intensive products like steel and concrete can’t capture. It also supports the part of our state’s economy that is not high tech but is rural and has struggled, and hasn’t recovered since the downturn.”