Wood buildings, potential major carbon sinks

ProPopulus Team

Switching to wood on a wide scale as primary construction material for buildings in Europe could sequester 420 million tons of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years –the equivalent of emissions from 108 coal plants–, according to a new study on the carbon storage potential of new European buildings between 2020 y 2040, published on IOPscience.

The study reviewed 50 different case buildings, calculating the carbon storage per m2 of each case. As a result, three types of wooden buildings were identified based on their carbon storage capacity. Additionally, four construction scenarios for Europe were generated based on the percentage of buildings constructed from wood and the type of wooden buildings

It is a known fact that the building industry is a major contributor to CO2 emissions.  According to the non-profit organization Architecture2030.org  buildings currently generate nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which around a quarter is the result of the sum of emissions from the production, transportation and use of building materials. Thus, it is clear that the materials used for the construction of buildings have a great impact on climate. 

Today the main materials used in the construction of buildings globally are concrete and steel. According to cleantechnica.com the production of these materials account approximately for 15% of global CO2 emissions. Thus, building with wood will help to bring these emissions down.

Europe is opting for wood for construction purposes and high-rise buildings in Cross-laminated timber (CLT) are popping up across the continent. On the other hand, Build in Wood, a European funded Horizon 2020 project, aims at increasing drastically  the proportion of timber construction within the EU, offering “high-quality, affordable and environmentally friendly housing” and making timber construction a new standard.

According to Ali Amiri of Aalto University in Finland, one of the authors of the study, the potential is unlimited as forests are planted to meet a potentially growing demand for wood. In a recent article published on the subject by Fast Company he also stated that there is massive potential for wooden buildings to become long-lasting carbon sinks if spread out to a global scale.

One of the main findings of the study is that “the carbon storage capacity of buildings is not significantly influenced by the type of building, the type of wood or the size of the building but rather by the number and the volume of wooden elements used in the structural and non-structural components of the building”. In view if these findings the researchers have recommended policymakers aiming for carbon-neutral construction to “focus on the number of wooden elements in buildings rather than more general indicators, such as the amount of wood construction, or even detailed indirect indicators, such as building type, wood type or building size”.

The source of the wood is another matter at hand, said Amiri, who stated that although in Europe and North America forestry practices are mostly sustainable, illegal logging is a problem on a global scale and it must be addressed. One way is using certified wood, thus guaranteeing that it comes from sustainably managed forests and plantations.

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