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cross-laminated timber

The real CLT boom is still to come

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 06.07.2021 - 12:03
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© Robert Kittel

Cross-laminated timber has a colorful history. Probably invented in Germany in the early 1990s, its industrial rise began in Austria at the end of the decade. It was a difficult start: Pioneers actually had to sell the CLT with the projects for which it was to be used.

For enthusiasts or multi-story buildings

Then, around the year 2010, the product finally established itself in the timber construction sector, and from 2015, it really took off. Demand kept growing enormously.

In 2021, cross-laminated timber is a product used by wood enthusiasts for building their single-family homes. On the other hand, it is actually a product which is perfect for multi-story, big-volume timber constructions. This is one of the reasons why CLT prices remained stable for a long time this year. When CLT is produced, the project for which it is needed has usually been confirmed already. This means that delivery times, quantities and prices are fixed.

As a result, plain lumber, such as 2-by-4, was more expensive in 2020 than the highly developed CLT. This year, even glulam and solid structural timber (KVH) overtook CLT in terms of prices. While the prices of these products doubled within just a few months, those of glulam saw a significantly slower upward trend.

Predictable prices an advantage on the market

The low variability in CLT prices is probably also part of the success of this product. Even with delivery times of ten weeks, prices did not change considerably in the past years. Fixed for one quarter, an increase of €10/m³ was often followed by a similar decrease in winter.

Even back then, price stability was actually something quite unusual for the mentality of the mostly family-run companies. Only in relation to other products, this mentality is still more or less the same in 2021. On the spot market, on the other hand, CLT prices also doubled within four or five months.

So, CLT achieved its real breakthrough on the market about five years ago. Architects see the product as a modern, resource-saving building material which convinces with its short building times and precision in assembly. The simplicity in calculations and assembly was recognized as one of the merits of CLT.

A perfect match for the raw material

In production, companies could not have asked for a better building material either. All kinds of byproducts can be used for the middle layers. This led to an enormous increase in added value for the sawmills – hence the expansion boom in production capacities.

In 2020, all wood products were booming. But was this really true for all wood products? No, in fact, CLT was not one of them. While there was a strong demand for all DIY products, the opposite was true for CLT. Due to the pandemic, approval processes were delayed and the uncertainty led to the postponement of some construction projects. And suddenly, the “wunderkind” almost became a “problem child”.

The expansion of CLT production capacities continues – and that is a good thing.

Gerd Ebner, editor-in-chief of Holzkurier

Better to sell lumber than CLT?

Now, we are in the middle of 2021 and the raw material is still getting more expensive every week and is only available on the market in limited quantities. You can almost feel how big timber companies would rather sell their lumber than use it for their own CLT production.

CLT stands for many things – but certainly not for a low material consumption. So, does the overheated situation expose cross-laminated timber as a yet imperfect product? Could the CLT party even be over already?

Newcomers confirm the positive outlook

Not at all, it seems when you see that Holzwerke van Roje in Germany or Holzindustrie Mosser in Austria, two well-known companies, plan to enter CLT production. Both have considered taking this step for a long time.

Holzindustrie Mosser, for example, gives the increasingly sophisticated production technology as one of the reasons for the late decision to build a CLT plant.

As if it was 2011: Everyone is welcome!

The number of producers keeps growing. Every year, three, four or even five companies enter the market. What do the established CLT producers say about the newcomers? In an interview, a sales manager who has been in the market for over 15 years said: “Every good producer who wants to join us is welcome.” This statement is reminiscent of 2011 but the fact that it is made ten years later shows how dynamic demand is expected to be. This confidence comes from confirmed construction projects, which will stretch well into 2022. “We alone could sell three to four times as much,” says another market participant.

As of yet, only a fraction of building regulations is adapted to the possibilities of modern timber constructions. Once this is done, demand could see another boom.

Politics favor timber constructions

Regardless of the outcome of the German federal elections this year, virtually all political camps, in Germany and other countries, want more timber constructions.

With the Green Deal and the ESG guidelines of the EU, the course is also set for more timber constructions. And at the end of the day, this also results in a higher demand for cross-laminated timber.