OSU & D.R. Johnson work together to produce cross-laminated timber

Thanks to a partnership with the Oregon State University College of Forestry, D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations in Riddle, Oregon, recently became the first U.S. certified manufacturer of cross-laminated timber.

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a massive structural composite panel product usually consisting of three to nine layers of dimensional timber arranged perpendicular to each other, much like layers of veneer in plywood and can be used as prefabricated wall, floor and roofing elements in residential, public and commercial structures. It is extremely strong and flexible, making it resilient to seismic activity.

Lech Muszyński, assistant professor of wood science and engineering, first saw CLT in production during his 2009 sabbatical in Austria. He says those facilities were unlike anything he had ever seen.

“I decided to visit as many as I could because the diversity was astounding,” Muszyński says. “I learned that you don’t need to be a big operation to make a difference in the market.”

Once back at OSU, Muszyński began making the rounds to industry partners to gauge their interest in constructing CLT test panels. He had little success until a meeting of the college’s Board of Visitors. Valarie Johnson, president of D.R. Johnson Lumber was in the room.

“The college asked if any of the companies present might be able to make CLT panels because they wanted to do testing,” Johnson says. “Since we’ve produced Glulam since 1967 I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’” Johnson says those words are jokingly repeated to her often by her staff.

Despite challenges, D.R. Johnson formed a partnership with Muszyński’s team. In October 2014, Oregon BEST awarded a $150,000 commercialization grant to D.R. Johnson Lumber for a CLT plant.

“We continue to work together with Oregon State to pursue our CLT production line here as well as expanding the awareness of CLT to a larger audience. Not only in Oregon, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Increased production of CLT would boost the timber industry, create jobs and create structures that could withstand the threat of seismic activity within the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Muszyński says education of the industry and the public about advanced wood products like CLT is his greatest challenge.

“The lumber industry needs to adapt,” he explains. “There will be learning curves along the entire supply chain.”

Oregon State and D.R. Johnson believe the reward of using CLT will be worth the challenges especially in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. When a CLT panel sustains earthquake damage, it can be more easily repaired than steel or concrete. Muszyński’s team is moving forward to test CLT’s resistance to fire and other natural disasters.

In September 2016, the four-story Albina Yard building in Portland became the first building in the United States to be constructed of domestically produced — by D.R. Johnson — CLT.

“If the client is happy with this product, it would mean more commissions,” Muszyński says. “Just think what it could do for the rural Oregon economy. There’s no reason why this technology should not be used in Oregon and throughout the United States.”