Researchers Strengthening CLT with Carbon Fibers

Originally published by: Composite ManufacturingMarch 1, 2019

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Researchers from Washington State University’s (WSU) Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC) are assisting the Composites Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles to develop new housing materials from heat‑treated wood and recycled carbon fiber used in Boeing airplanes.

Researchers from WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center (CMEC) are assisting the Composites Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles to produce construction‑grade cross‑laminated timber (CLT).

“Cross‑laminated timber is a relatively new building material in the U.S. that has significant advantages in sustainability over many traditional housing materials,” said Don Bender, CMEC director and Weyerhaeuser Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and lead investigator for WSU.  CLT can be erected quickly and makes the wood more resistant to decay and less prone to shrinking and swelling as the moisture conditions change. The compact layering can reduce a building’s energy usage and costs. In addition, CLT panels are prefabricated with little waste on site.

CLT can be made from timber that is thinned from forests to improve forest health and to reduce wildfire risk. “Using the timber in CLT, instead of allowing it to burn, reduces polluting carbon emissions that contribute to global warming,” said Mr. Bender.

Researchers are looking at thermal modification to convert the timber to a more durable, stable construction material, but the thermal modification slightly reduces its strength.  Adding recycled carbon fiber to CLT restores the strength and saves money.  Recycled carbon fiber costs about one‑tenth as much as virgin fiber.

The first application for the carbon fiber‑reinforced wood composite will likely be military housing. The project’s end goal is development of a new manufacturing facility on the Olympic Peninsula, creating as many as 50 new jobs in the region.

“We have the potential to create not just new jobs but an entire new industry,” Mr. Bender said.