An affordable housing project under construction in Portland is making good use of cross-laminated lumber, a building material that is growing in popularity and holds great potential for Maine’s wood products industry.

Unfortunately, it had to come all the way from Montana.

To make cross-laminated lumber, layers of low-value softwood are fused together with glue and pressure. It is as strong as the building materials already in wide use, and it can be produced and erected far more quickly and with fewer carbon emissions. Increasingly, it is being used as a cheaper, more environmentally friendly substitute for steel beams and concrete.

The 40-apartment project now being built by Avesta Housing is using cross-laminated lumber in its stairwells and elevator tower, perhaps a first in Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported earlier this month.

Using the material helped complete in a little over an hour what would have been a two-week job with concrete, the project’s general contractor told the BDN. It saved $75,000 out of the roughly $6 million project.

The savings could have been greater, but it cost the contractor $40,000 to have the lumber shipped from Montana, home to the closest manufacturing plant.

Maine has the trees necessary to make cross-laminated lumber, and it has a workforce that knows how to turn raw timber into world-class products. But as of yet, no one has been able to take advantage.

In recent years, two separate companies have announced plans to build cross-laminated lumber plants in Maine. One made public in early 2018, and which had qualified for a $3 million state grant, ultimately abandoned those plans and the grant money.

Another, announced last September, involved a 300,000-square-foot factory in Lincoln. Initially set to go online this fall, it’s opening has been delayed until 2021.

Officials from state government and the forest products industry should do what it takes to make sure that project or one similar makes it to fruition.

For the construction industry, widespread use of cross-laminated lumber makes sense. It’s adoption as an everyday building material is coming, and Maine should benefit as a source of that material, supplying projects up and down the East Coast.

People around the state would benefit, too, by having easy access to cheaper, greener materials. Having a plant close by would make contractors, always reluctant to change their ways, more likely to adopt the new technology, cutting down on costs and carbon emissions.

The state should do what it can to promote this transition to cross-laminated timber, which is just one of a group of new wood products, including fuel and insulation, that represent an important part of the future of the Maine forest products industry.

We’ve suggest before that a world-class office building or hotel be built here from homegrown, green materials, showing the world Maine is committed to these new products, and fighting climate change.

With products like cross-laminated lumber, one of Maine’s oldest industries has a bright future, as long as the state takes the right steps to make it so.


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