Small or diseased timber in forests can create fire risk unless it’s thinned out, but what can be done with it then? One solution is an environmentally friendly product called cross-laminated timber, an engineered wood panel made by compressing and gluing boards into layers.

About a decade ago, the Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC) researchers at Washington State University began looking at developing a cross-laminated timber (CLT) industry in Washington.

“CLT is really at the confluence of green building, forest health, and job creation,” says Don Bender, Weyerhaeuser Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and CMEC’s director. “What drove interest in it was the possibility of helping to spur rural economic development and to mitigate wildfire risk by reducing fuel loads in the national forest.”

For more than a half century, CMEC has conducted research in wood and composite materials that have changed industries and economies in the state and country. They began working with companies and economic development groups to improve CLT performance and manufacturing, including analyzing its cost effectiveness and supply chain logistics.

WSU faculty analyzed and designed a pilot CLT supply chain with a 2013 USDA grant, along with industry partners that included a lumber mill in Colville, a CLT manufacturer in Columbia Falls, Montana, and an advanced systems manufacturer in Spokane.

It was a day of celebration last fall when California-based Katerra opened a new 270,000-square-foot CLT factory in Spokane. The facility will bring 105 manufacturing jobs while producing 11 million square feet of the material.

WSU became a key partner with the company to study supply chains, test, and refine manufacturing methods. They will work to ensure that CLT resins, processing parameters, and timber materials meet professional standards. The partnership includes Katerra colleagues with close ties to WSU, including Craig Curtis (’83 Arch., ’84 Const. Mgmt.), the company’s chief architect, and Todd Beyreuther, Katerra’s senior director of advanced building materials and a WSU adjunct professor.

“WSU has a long history of working side-by-side with companies in testing and evaluating manufacturing processes, such as those being used by Katerra,” says Bender. “We help close technology gaps so that Katerra has the most durable and safe product for its customers.”

This semester, WSU architecture and engineering students in the School of Design and Construction, as well as University of Idaho students, are working with Katerra on a studio design experience. They are developing ideas for a student housing project in Spokane’s University District while they study commercial wood construction.

“Our future architects and engineers will need skills in the design and construction with mass timber to meet the demands for carbon-free building of the future,” says Ryan Smith, director of the School of Design and Construction. “We’re excited about exploring the possibilities of using this material.”


On the web

Composite Materials & Engineering Center (CMEC)

History of the WSU Wood Materials & Engineering Laboratory, 1949-1994 (PDF)