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Sustainable Composite Lumber Use May Broaden
October 1, 2008

Two University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers are developing computer models to predict the strength of structural composite lumber (SCL), which could broaden the use of the sustainable material in large building projects.

Peggi Clouston, an associate professor in wood mechanics, and Sanjay Arwade, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, are working together to create the computational tools with a three-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

According to Prof. Clouston, SCL is a building material used extensively in North America in residential construction. SCL is created by layering dried and graded wood veneers or strands with waterproof adhesive to form long rectangular beams and other structural members. SCL manufacturers want to make as strong a composite with the cheapest wood possible, such as waste wood or weed species, she says, but new products must be tested in a laboratory to determine their strength. That process can be time-consuming and costly, she says.

Their research is aimed at producing a quick and inexpensive analytical method that will accelerate the development of less costly or stronger wood products that could be used in major non-residential building projects such as shopping centers or schools, she says.

“By making the predictive capability widely available, this project marks a first step in advancing the practice of wood design to a state comparable to that of steel and concrete,” explains Prof. Clouston. “Building products manufacturers and engineers will have a great interest in this.”

Along with obvious economic advantages, she notes, SCL offers several significant environmental benefits because wood is renewable, recyclable, biodegradable and sustainable. “It takes less energy and creates less pollution to transform trees into wood products than it does to manufacture steel, concrete or plastic products,” notes Prof. Clouston. ##

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