MAINSTREAM use of home-grown timber in construction has taken a significant step forward with a new demonstrator project that could give a major boost to Scotland’s economy and the industry’s environmental impact.

A consortium of partners – comprising Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) Centre for Offsite Construction and Innovative Structures (COCIS), Scottish Forestry, Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor), and SNRG – has secured funding from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to prove the business case for using Scottish timber to create the structural elements of buildings.

The project will see the manufacture of the first Scottish-sourced cross laminated timber (CLT) and nail laminated timber (NLT) housing unit – including wall, roof, and floor – using the UK’s only vacuum press at CSIC’s innovation factory in Hamilton.

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It is hoped it could ultimately lead to the mainstream use of home-grown timber in Scotland and the rest of the UK construction industry, as well as the development of the country’s first engineered timber manufacturing plant.

The CLT and NLT superstructure is set to be complete by the end of the year, and will be showcased at next year’s COP26 UN conference on climate change in Glasgow.

“The project is an important milestone in the move towards more mainstream use of home-grown timber in the UK’s construction sector, the majority of which is grown in Scotland,” said Sam Hart, innovation manager at CSIC.

“Research has proven that, with the right treatment and processing, our timber can be used for a wide variety of higher-value purposes beyond its relatively limited set of current applications.

“Through its increased use in commercial construction and housebuilding, we can also reduce our reliance on imported timber.

“The next step from there will be to make the industry aware of this transformational potential and make it a reality.

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“Greater use of our natural and renewable resources will deliver a range of environmental, cost and economic benefits for Scotland and the wider UK.

“COP26 is a once in a generation opportunity to showcase what can be achieved.”

Among the benefits, using more home-grown timber is expected to significantly lower costs for the construction industry – initial figures suggest a potential reduction of as much as 10% compared to imported CLT can cut carbon emissions through reduced transportation and open new markets to the UK-based timber sector.

Analysis has suggested that around 85% of all new homes in Scotland are built using timber and recent UK Government statistics showed in 2018, the UK was the world’s second largest net importer of forest products – including timber – behind only China.

Timber grown in the UK has historically been used for non-structural applications, such as fencing and palettes.

However, ENU COCIS has led on research and development to determine the viability of using home-grown timber for the production of mass timber products and systems.

As a result, a number of UK-sourced mass timber products have been pilot manufactured, tested, and analysed.