This presentation demonstrates how construction economics measures the benefits of mass timber in the context of our built environment.
Total Benefit Analysis stems from our history of elemental analysis, which has become standard throughout the industry in the last 50 to 60 years. Elemental analysis groups building systems into their major design components, such as structure or enclosure, and measures against the total cost.
Similarly, Total Benefit Analysis aggregates initiatives into major categories that can then be measured against the desired outcome. For example, a healthy planet can be measured by reductions in carbon emissions, with individual initiatives grouped into major areas such as supply, demand, policy, and the built environment.
For mass timber, we will measure major benefits that arise from carbon capture, resource conservation, land diversity, fuel switching, and building right size.
North America is a significantly forested environment. The total volume of wood is currently over 50 billion cubic meters, divided about equally between Canada and the United States.
The forest industry harvests less than net growth annually. The overall dynamic is that removals allow a high rate of growth – 3 percent say – to play out over a much longer amount of time since removals allow continual room to grow.
Can we capture a significant amount of carbon with net growth?
Can we switch fuels with a significant amount of carbon removals?
Northern hardwood forests grow at about 3 percent annually. Southern forests can grow at 7 times this rate.
Silviculture practice has an enormous influence on growth rates. Soil improvement, thinning, species selection, bio-diversity, control fires, etcetera, are in fact natural human forces that have existed for millennia. The absence of human influence has caused significant degradation of previously managed forests over the past decades.
For 300 years, agricultural and pasture uses supplanted indigenous forests.
The last 100 years have seen significant reforestation of these lands.
Can we expand the area of forest cover?
Can we increase biomass across all North America?
What role do agricultural, grassland, and urban areas play?
Agriculture has supplanted significant areas of forest cover.
However, crop residues produce a significant source of renewable energy.
Grasslands and arid lands are enormous resources for pasture and indigenous space.
Grassland and semi-arid land have significant potential for growth in carbon capture, conservation, and biological and human diversity.
Green at No Cost explores the total benefit relationships of reducing urban paved surfaces and increasing urban forest canopy.
Significant reductions in paved surfaces along with significant increases in urban forest canopy reduce both first and life cycle costs while increasing value over a broad array of economic and wellness objectives.
Green at No Cost also explores the Parkway arrangement of green infrastructure into a grid of continuous eco corridors and adjacent blue institutional and recreational spaces.
Light yellow residential spaces typically have a high percentage of forest canopy.
Dark yellow medium-density residential and magenta commercial spaces have a medium percentage of forest canopy.
Ranch or bungalow-style timber or stick-built residential construction benefits most from the passive energy savings of mixed forest canopies.
Mature trees, privacy, and yards add significant value to residential neighborhoods.
Timber or stick built low rise mixed uses to combine the forest canopy with high efficiency/low-cost built environment.
What do sprawling bio and human diversity look like?
The planning models show low-density and high-density parkway models.
At 4,000 people per square mile, North America’s population fits into a 320-mile square. At 20,000 people per square mile, North America’s population fits into a 140-mile square.
This means the entire population could move (as they are) to grassland/semi-arid land and expand North American forest cover at the same
The dynamics of the carbon cycle help us understand the quantities involved.
If forest growth exceeds decomposition, there is a net capture that offsets emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. This capture rate currently offsets 10 percent of emissions for Europe.
About 1 percent of growth is consumed by fire, and the rest decomposes.
Wood products are also shown to decompose, with less than 1% remaining as carbon sink.
While we can’t build ourselves into carbon neutrality, we can make use of giant sources of energy that otherwise simply rot on the forest floor
2020 wildfires in North America and Australia were unprecedented.
Billed as a result of global warming, but the geological record shows otherwise.
California topped out at over 4 million acres burned. However, the historical record shows that indigenous people burned this area annually as both a control measure and as an improvement to the carrying capacity of the land.
The balance of scientific literature agrees. Selective removals, thinning, soil improvement, watershed retention, diversity measures, and salvage result in exponential value adds.
To gauge the immediate cost/benefit we could take the $20 billion minimum loss, double it, say, to account for the loss of life, injuries, and dislocation, then compare this to the cost of a pro-active plan. “Raking” the forest, if you will.
$40 billion divided by $40 a ton for the cost of wood chips equals 1 billion tons of wood chips. 1 billion tons of wood chips times 10 million BTU per ton equals (10,000,000,000,000,000) 10 quadrillion BTU.
Last, but not least, the 2020 wildfires had a measured global cooling effect. Climatologists previously figured smoke clouds, being darker than water clouds, would absorb heat. Measured cooling indicated the effect to be more like volcanic eruptions into the upper atmosphere.
Is there a win-win-win scenario in which industrial humans steal the winning formula of ancestral humans?
Until 1850, wood was the sole source of industrial energy.
While fossil sources such as coal, oil, and gas skyrocketed, wood sources remained in the picture.
This is because wood is price competitive with even the least expensive source, natural gas.
Note the $40 per ton price for wood chips we used in the previous analysis.
The last 20 years shows the emergence of price-competitive renewable energy switching out cost prohibitive coal.
What might the future look like as we make more use of switching and sequestration?
For that, we need to grow a forest really, really, fast.
Afforest describes a six-step process that uses a computer program developed for automobile manufacture and dispatch.
“The program registers tree species’ specific parameters, such as how high it grows, in what months it blooms, the kinds of temperatures it can tolerate, and so on.
For example, if there’s a species that grows up to 50 feet, the one planted next to it should grow only up to 20, because we don’t want a conflict after five years. Car-assembly logic picks an ideal combination of trees to best utilize vertical space. The software figures it out.”
As with agriculture, silviculture practice will rapidly improve yield for many decades before exponential yield improvement starts to decline.
For North America 30 Q BTU growth minus 15 Q BTU removals equals 15 Q BTU carbon capture.
This projection for global energy supplies from 2005 indicates some important relationships.
First, it shows a sharp drop in energy consumption brought on by the rapid run-up in prices around 2007. Oil prices, for example, skyrocketed over 100 dollars per barrel. This points to the main weapon for resource conservation and emissions control – the price mechanism.
Second, it shows fossil fuel consumption dropping rapidly as renewable sources for electrical energy ramp up.
Third, it shows nuclear and biomass holding at low levels.
At right, I have penciled in a scenario for North America, projecting to 2030 and 2050.
Efficiency improvements will continue to reduce consumption from over 100 quads in the year 2000, to 80 quads in 2050.
Solar sources continue to grow and become the largest source.
Coal phases out completely by 2030.
Gas stays in the picture as a good variable source of electricity while phasing out as heating fuel.
Nuclear, going out on a limb, makes a comeback in a new failsafe form.
Oil remains the most efficient source of high-density transportation fuel.
Transportation emissions are offset by forest growth carbon capture.
Biomass makes a resurgence past pre-industrial levels due to integrated forest and waste management.
As we segue into mass timber construction, we can take a closer look at industrial uses for wood.
About half is used for pulp and fuelwood, the other half is comprised of sawlogs and other finished products.
The waste stream from the industry is about 60 percent combusted. The rest ends up sequestered or decomposed.
190 million tons of wood residues for 2010 can be compared to the 1,000 million tons generated by the 2020 wildfire calculation.
Nonresidential construction makes up a small percentage of US softwood demand.
This was not always the case. Noncombustible construction, reinforced by building code requirements, supplanted the timber and masonry systems we still see in our historic neighborhoods.
As sprinkler fire protection systems became ubiquitous, driven by the life cycle benefit of not having entire cities go up in smoke, the need for noncombustible assemblies reduced.
Current codes are now updated to reflect the new reality.
The nonresidential construction sector, on average for the last 10 years, is about equal to the residential sector, pointing to enormous potential expansion for lumber use over the coming decades.