This report presents an overview into cross laminated timber (CLT) as a construction material and how it compares to traditional methods of construction. CLT is also examined in the context of a move to off-site manufacturing (OSM) and a greater emphasis on sustainability in the construction sector. In this context it is found to perform well with mass timber products such as CLT being the only carbon negative building materials capable of building mid and high-rise buildings.
The barriers and opportunities for CLT are explored looking at literature, industry reports and case studies. The main barriers to wider use of CLT still come from uncertainties around the material. Although they have been proven to not be a problem, worries over issues such as how it performs during fires and the lifetime of buildings persist. A lack of standardisation may be the primary cause for this as a range of products and specifications across different manufactures and countries creates confusion and means that each building needs to be individually specified. The opportunities identified for CLT include its carbon saving properties which could benefit governments wanting to reach their carbon reduction targets. In addition, the ability to use CLT on a wider range of sites such as unstable brownfield land and over service tunnels lends to its strength in aiding with urban densification.
In terms of costs, these are found to be comparable to those of traditional construction methods with high material costs being offset by reduced foundations and construction time. CLT buildings do, however, face a premium in insurance costs. Transport costs, resulting from a concentrated production base in central Europe, also add a considerable amount to the overall cost of the finished product. This in turn encourages domestic production in countries outside of Europe.
The possibilities for CLT in the UK residential construction market are investigated with a focus on mid-rise and high-rise flat construction as that is what the economics and material properties of CLT most lend itself to. Although CLT currently has a low market share of less than 0.1% of homes in this sector there is the potential for this to increase to 20-60% over time. The lower range of this estimate is not predicted to be reached before 2035 and this is also dependant on rising CLT production levels. The volume of timber that is needed to manufacture enough CLT to reach these increased construction volumes can be sourced sustainably from existing forests production in Europe and North America. In addition, the UK has enough excess timber harvesting capacity to provide for the entirety of CLT buildings in the UK, however, large scale domestic CLT production is required to make this a reality.