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Making the Most of the Beetles – an alternative use of standing dead forest wood


Brandon Loomis wrote an article in the September 22, 2011 Salt Lake Tribune titled, “Our Dying Forests, Beetles Gnaw Through Utah, West” in which he reports on the growing mountain pine beetle epidemic sweeping through the intermountain forests. As documented by Mr. Loomis, beetle kill is dangerous to forests as it creates a hazard of large accumulation of dead wood, which can set the stage for potential high severity wildfires. This begs the question, “if the Fed is going to spend public funds on tree removal, is there embodied value and embedded capital in this otherwise waste wood?”

Beetle kill standing dead pine can certainly be used as biomass energy, for fuel directly as chips/ground material, or converted to pellets for stoves and boilers releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. However, use for energy production is the lowest value application of beetle kill pine and it won’t cover the cost of removal and transportation. The preferred use for portions of the trees is higher value products, such as construction for housing and commercial buildings, storing CO2 in built works and then applying the residual to energy use. This scenario presents an opportunity to make the most of beetle kill pine.

Despite the current trend in real estate, Chris Nelson, also from the University of Utah’s  College of Architecture + Planning, projects building growth in the Intermountain West will double in numbers by the year 2030 [Nelson, 2006]. Standing dead beetle kill pinewood from the mountain west forest is a potential resource to meet the growth demand, however this wood is low grade and small diameter making it inadequate for 2×4 and 2×6 stick frame construction that constitutes the majority of our buildings in the west. Researchers at the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center, University of Utah, have assembled a super team, collaborating with Brigham Young University Civil Engineering and industry partners Euclid Timber Frames, LLC of Heber City and Acute Engineering of Provo to evaluate the potential of sourcing beetle kill pine for the purpose of building construction products.

The team has researched, developed and is now commercializing a beetle pine product called Interlocking Cross Laminated Timber (ICLT), a prefabricated cross-laminated solid wood wall and roof panel. Similar to Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) developed in Europe, ICLT is fabricated from 2-7 layers of alternating direction 3” x 6” to 3” x 8” pine stock. Unlike other solid wood panel systems, however, ICLT utilizes no fasteners and no adhesives, removing the reliance on volatile organic compound (toxic) glues, allowing the panel to be disassembled at end of life to be repurposed in the building material supply chain. The exposed wood on the interior provides a thermal mass and humidity regulation factor. Utilizing no fasteners or glues also reduces overall capital cost for either stainless fastener purchase and install or press purchase and set up associated with glue lamination. Conversely, standard mills and timber fabricators looking to diversify their product offering may produce ICLT with existing infrastructure and equipment.

Layering gives the panel strength, allowing low-grade wood to be used in a high value structural condition, estimated to last upwards of 100 years. Compared to the 30-50 year life of most light frame construction, ICLT provides a strong outer structure and enclosure that is durable, meeting the needs of a more sustainable building industry, economically and environmentally. ICLT panels range in size from 6” – 21” in thickness and up to 10’ wide and 25’ in length. ICLT structures can be built up to nine stories in some cases, efficient in speed of construction, and given the availability of material, potentially affordable for both production home building and large commercial structures.

Forestlands in the intermountain west average 50 trees per acre with an average height of 80’ and trunk diameter of 3’ at the end of their useful CO2 sequestration life. A mature tree produces 1695 board feet of lumber. A forestland of 1 million acres of standing dead beetle kill pinewood yields 85 billion board feet of material. Put into an ICLT configuration of 40,000 B.F. per average sized house in Utah (2,700 S.F.), this would produce over 2 million housing units. With an estimated 750,000 units to be added by 2030 in Utah alone, the Colorado standing dead forestland for example would provide enough material for most of the U.S. intermountain housing demand. Although, ICLT may provide a single family housing solution, its greatest economic and environmental conservation potential lies in its ability to compete with high-embodied energy traditions in North America of concrete and steel construction, most notably in mid-rise multi-family and low-rise non-residential sectors.

Coordinated support by the research community at the U will continue to be critical to early beetle kill pine product development, particularly with facilitating code approvals, seismic testing, fire evaluations and connection requirements, providing the most significant early work. More important to the realization of beetle kill pine utilization for building construction however are the obstacles of political, financial, and value chain flow logistics that must be overcome. In an effort to expedite beetle kill pine usage for high value building construction, University of Utah researchers are hosting a Western Region Wood Building Workshop on campus focused on applied research on mountain pine beetle timber for building construction. The workshop scheduled for January 2012 is sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory and is intended to bring together current thinking, research and industry practice to determine and find solutions to the full lifecycle potential of design, sourcing, milling, fabricating and assembling various wood structures as an alternative use of mountain pine beetle standing dead, thereby creating a new, low energy use products for the building market.

For more information on ICLT and the Western Region Wood Building Workshop contact Ryan E. Smith, Associate Professor, University of Utah at

  • joan

    This is great. Thank you for expanding on the newspaper story!

  • İdris Selvi

    I thank you very much for the information. As a very successful financial blog.

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