Enhancing carbon sequestration in wood

2008-12-22

in Economics, The environment

Andrea Simms-Karp and Morty

Ordinarily, wood is a relatively temporary storehouse for carbon. While trees absorb it when growing, they re-release it when they burn or rot. A company called Titan Wood is seeking to enhance the sequestration potential of wood by chemically altering it. In so doing, they increase the span of time for which the carbon will be bound up in a solid form; by making the wood stronger (converting soft woods like pine into a form comparable to tropical hardwoods), they also allow wood to be used in a wider variety of applications, displacing more carbon-intensive building options like concrete, metal, and plastic:

Instead of deforesting tropical rainforests for the highest quality hardwoods, we can essentially make them from trees that grow in northern climates. Wood that is grown via sustainable forestry practices and modified with our acetylation process provides a far more sustainable model for producing high-performance lumber. If the wood is both grown and used locally, so much the better.

Unlike woods treated with existing processes (such as Chromated Copper Arsenate), the resulting material is non-toxic.

In the Netherlands, a heavy traffic road bridge is being constructed from this processed wood (the commercial name for it is Accoya). All the wood being used for the construction is from source-certified sustainable species.

This all strikes me as a neat idea, and a potentially good way to store some carbon in the medium term while transitioning towards more sustainable building materials.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Hella Stella December 22, 2008 at 9:30 am

Look! It’s my beast!

Milan December 22, 2008 at 9:39 am

Indeed.

Any exposure to him generates material for several photos of the day; this is especially useful when the city is grey, dark, and full of blowing snow particles.

R.K. December 22, 2008 at 10:42 am

How much energy does this wood modification technique use?

Milan December 29, 2008 at 11:43 am

The article linked above says this:

Q. Doesn’t the process itself use a lot of energy? A lot more than say, planting a tree and waiting a few years.

A. No. When you grow a tree, like a fast-growing softwood, what happens? It either grows to maturity, eventually dies, and releases its carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere. Or, it is cut down and used in an application that results in it releasing its carbon back to the atmosphere in much less than 100 years.

What happens with Accoya is that you can make a harvest every 20 years and put it into a long-term application. When you put it into an application that is typically aluminum or steel, you have a dual-win: It takes less energy to make Accoya, and you have sequestered carbon where you would have placed steel.

Of course you also have a big benefit by using it for applications typically reserved for tropical timber in that you displace tropical timber with softwoods.”

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