OSB – the board of the future

1 April 2017

We have in this issue a focus on OSB. It as been called the board with the future. There are reasons for this. One is that its raw materials are easily and cheaply available and can include recycled wood. Another reason is the increasing suitability of OSB for building.

It has for some time been ubiquitous inside buildings. Factors that have limited its exterior use – poor resistance to weather and poor fire resistance – have been, or are being, overcome . High technologies, in resins and processes, are involved but we live in a high-technology world and the industry has been embracing the challenges with enthusiasm. At the end of last year the world’s tallest wooden building was topped off in Vancouver at 18 storeys and 53 metres. As we report on page 10, a wooden building in Norway may soon overtake it. Using wood to replace much of the cement and concrete in the Vancouver building has resulted in a reduction of 2,432 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

Engineered wood, properly used and made to be longlasting, is more than carbon-neutral; it is carbon-negative. The wood has sequestered carbon from the atmosphere and has stored it, and will go on storing it for the life of the building.

The cement industry, in contrast, is the most energyintensive of all manufacturing industries. Cement contributes greenhouse gases both directly in its production when calcium carbonate is thermally decomposed to form lime and carbon dioxide, and indirectly through its high use of energy to drive that decomposition. It is second only to the burning of fossil fuels in its profligacy of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet cement-based concrete is the ubiquitous building method worldwide. It need not be.

Our interviewee on page 43 points out that Latin America is one region where wood can substitute for traditional building material, to great advantage to the industry, to the environment – and to the cost of the homes. Our UK-based OSB expert, on page 38, makes exactly the same point about the need for modular – primarily wood based – housing in the UK.

Panel producers have long complained, with reason, about the uncritical welcome given to wood pellets as a source of energy in power stations and about the subsidies given to that use. It is clearly better to use harvested wood as a carbon sink, rather than immediately burning it.

Wood-powered generating stations are a good idea but they are a much better idea if the wood that powers them is recycled. If the subsidies currently given to pellet-fired electricity generation were given instead to encouraging recycling of wood, for power or for building, and to favouring wood framed buildings over concrete-based ones, it would be money far better spent , if reducing carbon emissions is the goal.