Washington state is at once a bastion of innovation and tradition. Longtime industries, like the state’s robust forestry industry continue to develop new technologies that promise to improve the way we construct facilities and better the environment.
Washington is heavily wooded with nearly 23 million forested acres — or more than half of the state.
Approximately, 4 million acres of those acres are privately owned and account for 70% of the state’s timber harvest. The forest products industry supports more than 42,000 workers across more than 1,700 businesses in the state.
While the forest products industry itself is tried and true, new products are always being developed. One such technology, a new and innovative wood product called cross-laminated timber (CLT) is quickly gaining steam as an eco-friendly building material.
CLT is an engineered wood product produced from multiple layers of lumber and adhesive; each layer laid up with its grain running perpendicular to the layer adjacent and pressed under heat to create large, high strength panels. The panels are modified by automated CNC machines to incorporate custom window, plumbing, electrical and fastening elements in accordance with the precise architectural specifications of the designer. The finished panels are then assembled in situ at the construction site.
CLT is principally used for commercial and residential building construction. Europe is currently the leading market for CLT design and the market in North America is growing. CLT designed construction is attractive for its speed of construction, its low carbon footprint when compared to traditional building methods and its aesthetics. Contemporary building codes acknowledge its strength, fire resistance and carbon sink characteristics which have made it a leading construction method for many of the world’s LEED-certified buildings; many of which are over 20 stories in height.
In August, Mercer International Inc., a Canadian timber company, acquired a recently constructed, state-of-the-art CLT manufacturing facility in Spokane Valley for $50 million. The facility was formerly occupied by Katerra, which completed the construction of The Catalyst building in Spokane — the largest CLT building west of Arkansas. The CLT manufacturing facility is equipped with state-of-the-art extensive automation technologies, including one of the largest CLT presses in the world.
“Darrington has deep roots in the timber industry going back for generations.”
— Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin.
Located on 54 acres, the 270,000-sq.-ft. facility has the capacity to produce 13 million sq. ft. of 5-ply panels annually. Additionally, the facility represents about 30% of the current North American mass timber manufacturing capacity.
“We are very pleased with our impending acquisition of the facility,” David Gandossi, CEO of Mercer, said. “It represents an attractive entry point for us into the CLT business with a near new state-of-the-art facility. It fits well with our strategy to expand in the solid wood products space and aligns with a core value to provide sustainable and carbon reducing alternatives for a warming planet.”
Innovation in Timber Town
In the small mountain town of Darrington, in the North Cascade mountains, the timber industry is the region’s primary economic driver. In 2020, the city announced plans to develop the Darrington Wood Innovation Center. As a partnership between the town and Forterra, a Washington-based land conservation nonprofit, the innovation center’s campus will house and attract new wood fiber-based innovation and manufacturing companies. The Center will include companies building or manufacturing mass timber, CLT and modular housing.
This development addresses town officials’ long-term goals to reinvigorate the local economy after a tragic mudslide in 2014 and bring innovative wood technology jobs to the community, affirming its identity as a timber town.
“Darrington has deep roots in the timber industry going back for generations,” said Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin. “Wood has been an integral part of our community and through mass timber will continue to be part of our future. The Darrington Wood Innovation Center will create new, innovative jobs that embody the spirit of our community. By bringing mass timber and CLT production to Darrington, the new Center will continue to make possible a livelihood that allows folks to live, work and play in this incredible place we call home.”
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.