Nowadays, the construction and building industry are causing around 40% of the total carbon emissions globally. Therefore, mitigating their environmental impact is probably the most efficient manner to reduce humanity's footprint.
Wood structures are beneficial towards this purpose as they produce far fewer carbon emissions when constructed. Moreover, they have the potential of storing large quantities of CO2 but, quantitative data on this wood property have not been widely derived yet.
The new research that was published in Environmental Research Letters evaluates the benefits of shifting to wood construction focusing on European infrastructure. The scientific team from the Finnish Environment Institute the Aalto University in Espoo, Finland managed to quantify the carbon storage potential of buildings for the first time.
In particular, the team focused on 50 building cases from the US, Norway, Canada, Germany, Finland, South Korea, Austria, Australia, Sweden and China. Those buildings were divided into three categories based on the quantity of wood utilized in each one. Researchers found out that, based on the category of the building, they stored at least 100, 200 or 300 kg of CO2 per m2, respectively.
The authors suggest that the storage capacity of wood is stunning. A wooden surface of 100 m2 can absorb 10.000-30.0000 kg of CO2. In comparison, 1000 kg of CO2 is the equivalent emissions produced by 4,000 km driven by an average passenger vehicle.
What was also interesting about the findings is that the storage potential proved to be a function of the quantity of wood used and independent of the wood's type or of the building's shape.
The study mentioned that 190 million m2 of land are turned into residential buildings in Europe annually. The results suggest that if 80% of the new buildings are made out of wood, the potential storage of CO2 would be 55 million tons. That is without calculating the additional benefit of not using concrete for structural components replaced by wood. Those parts do not have to include the framework of a structure but surfaces, cladding, etc.
Nevertheless, the study suggests that if the project is implemented, wood production must take place in a sustainable manner. Large quantities of wood will be needed, therefore, a strategic plan to replace the natural deposits should emerge. Deforestation is also a phenomenon that negatively impacts the natural environment and the construction industry should not worsen the situation.
To maximize the potential storage capacity (55 million tons), the authors emphasize that the new buildings need to belong to the third of the aforementioned categories, storing 300 kg of CO2 per m2.
Shifting to wood construction can be coupled with the current trend of providing houses with energy from renewable sources. Therefore, the scenery of the construction industry is in a historic era where it can become far more environmentally sustainable.
Source: Aalto University