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Battling climate change with wood construction

  • 16 Feb 2017

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Up to 30% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions come from the building sector, making it a big factor in mitigating climate change. One solution to the problem is building with wood, as wood is the only construction material that stores carbon.

Consequently, wood products have a small carbon footprint during their lifecycle and can be used in practically all buildings to store carbon. 

Finding new ways of capturing carbon from the atmosphere is one way to mitigate climate change, and the construction sector can support these positive developments by using wooden construction materials that capture carbon for their entire life span.

Matti Kuittinen, architect and researcher from Aalto University explains that the dry mass of wood is 50% carbon, and this carbon is taken away from the atmosphere and thus does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

Wood-based materials can be used in most parts of any building to capture carbon from the atmosphere. Moreover, the largest potential for storing carbon can be achieved in external walls, intermediate floors and roof structures.

For example, a passive house was designed for a cold climate with two alternative construction material combinations: wood frame with wood-fibre insulation and an aircrew frame with EPS insulation.

Kuittinen added that although both options of wood gave the buildings’ shell the same level of energy efficiency, producing the wooden alternative caused approximately 40% less CO2 emissions. In addition, the amount of atmospheric carbon stored in its wood frame was almost four times as much as in the alternative.

However, it is important to ensure that the carbon storage is as long-term as possible and long service life requires good design, moisture safety during construction and good maintenance.

Furthermore, the wooden parts can be recycled into other products when they are no lingers used in buildings. Therefore, the atmospheric carbon stays locked away. Wood material can be used for bioenergy products after a cascade of recycling.

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