ORONO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A new kind of engineered lumber is being tested at the University of Maine. This new "plywood on steroids" could compete with other construction materials like concrete and steel, and this new industry may help add value back into Maine's forests.
"It would be a new market, it would be a new factory, sort of like making furniture, except it's really big pieces, said Steve Shaler, director of the School of Forest Resources at UMaine.
The new market would be for cross laminated timber, an engineered plywood created and tested at the University of Maine. CLT is made with different types of wood from Maine's forests. It's then pressed into a strong construction material, ready to use at construction sites.
"They come out as large panels, solid panels with windows and door openings pre-cut, maybe utility locations pre-cut, and they're swung into place and connected together and they go up very very quickly with very little cutting on site very little waste on site," said Bill Davids, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
"This is for taller structures, four stories, 10, there are buildings now that are made out of wood that are 10 stories tall," said Shaler.
The blocks of spruce, pine and fir were stress tested and broken under 10,000 pounds of force, which is stronger than normal lumber, but lighter than other building materials like steel and concrete.
"Because this weighs less than steel and concrete, the size of those foundations has been shown to be smaller, and that saves money in the cost of a building," said Shaler
It's not only cost-effective, but Shaler says because it is stacked wood, it is more fire resistant than steel and better for the environment.
"Well it's a renewable resource. Green energy is where we're going and we want to reduce carbon emissions and this is a structural material that can help do that," said Nicholas Willey, the graduate research assistant heading the project.
Engineers are currently testing different ways to make the plywood the strongest it can be. If they find that CLT is a good fit for structures in the northeast, this could make Maine's forests more valuable, bringing a much needed boost to the timber industry.
"My hope really is that this gets commercialized in Maine. We use Maine woods to make this product and add value to it. We'd like to see a CLT plant here in Maine where it adds jobs and ultimately we want to improve the economy," said Davids.
The first CLT manufacturer in the United States is in Oregon. There, they use local fir trees to build commercial buildings that withstand the elements better than regular wood.