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Wood Products Offered As Part of Carbon Control Strategy

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Taking advantage of the full life-cycle of forests and wood products offers opportunities for greater control of carbon emissions, according to an analysis by a team of researchers from the U.S. and Sweden. Their paper appears in the June issue of the journal Carbon Management.

The review, by Bruce Lippke, University of Washington professor emeritus of forest resources, and colleagues from the U.S. Forest Service and Mid Sweden University, identifies opportunities to use wood in ways that displace products that cause a one-way flow of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions to the atmosphere, contributing to the risk of climate change. The team estimates that the amount of carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere could be quadrupled in 100 years by harvesting regularly from forests and using the wood in place of steel and concrete that require fossil fuels during manufacturing.

Lippke’s team says sustainably managed forests provide an equal, two-way flow of carbon dioxide: the gas that trees absorb while growing eventually goes back to the atmosphere when they get old and decay, trees burn in a fire, or furniture goes to a landfill and rots. The authors suggest that reducing carbon emissions involves growing wood as fast as possible, harvesting before tree growth begins to taper off, using the wood in place of products that are most fossil-fuel intensive, or using woody biomass to produce biofuels in place of fossil fuels.

The paper says says tradeoffs are best revealed through life cycle analysis that assesses environmental impacts for all stages of a product including materials extraction, energy for processing and manufacturing, product use and ultimate disposal. Some of the longest-lived wood products are those used for housing and light industrial buildings, estimated to have a useful life of at least 80 years.

Life cycle analysis, for example, compared replacing steel floor joists with engineered wood joists, thereby reducing the carbon footprint by almost 10 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of wood used. Also, wood flooring instead of concrete slab flooring was found to reduce the carbon footprint by approximately 3.5 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of wood used.

Read more: HSBC Takes Climate Change Research to the Bank

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