Over 100 industry experts joined the WoodBUILD 2019 conference in Bangor on 26 June. Delegates, speakers and expo participants from across the supply chain from forest nursery, land users, housing associations, local authorities, housing and joinery manufactures, as well as policy makers all coalesced around the theme of this year’s conference on how we become a high-value forest nation. This year it was particularly good to see some of the younger talent participating in the challenging two minutes elevator pitch session.

Ireland – Would this approach work for Wales?

Photo of Des O'Toole key note speaker during his talk

Key Note Speaker Des O’Toole

This year’s keynote speaker was Des O’Toole the marketing development manager for Coillte Ireland. Des shared experiences of the Coillte journey towards becoming a high-value forest nation. To get to where they are today Coillte have invested heavily in technology across the supply chain, from the forest floor through to the Medite SmartPly company that produces MDF (medium density fibreboard) and OSB (orientated strand board). Looking at the future there is still much that needs to be done explained Des, particularly in the development of new materials from cellulose and lignin. Processing the abundant timber raw material will allow high-value bio-based products to be developed from forestry fibre to replace petrochemical plastics in a range of industries.

Wales – what is the potential to expand our forests?

Whilst there was a strong feeling that something has to be done about expanding our forest cover, we still need to define how we ‘value’ those forests, what we are growing trees for and where we should be planting them. Professor John Healey raised a lot of these issues in his presentation, “The potential for expansion of Welsh Forestry” and discussed the potential for transforming land use in Wales and balancing timber supply with biodiversity, the visual landscape, and the mix of ecosystem services which are valued by society.

Delegates enjoying the location and sun at WoodBUILD 2019

Professor Healey, taking part in the BIG debate at the end of the conference, went on to say that no one should deny the objective (becoming a high value-forest nation) saying that land is one of the greatest assets Wales has and that there is an obligation to use that land carefully to deliver the needs of society. At the same time he, and others in the debate urged that we must also take a global view and set Welsh land use and forestry policy in an international context – what we do cannot become an isolationist policy.

Scotland – working hard to improve their forest sector

Andy Leitch (Scottish Forestry) and Dr Graham Ormondroyd (BioComposites Centre) both looked at how value can be added to the wood supply chain. Andy summarised woodland cover and ownership and then went on to show the flow into established wood supply chain for sawlogs (exports, pallets, construction, fencing, pellets, bar) small round wood (panels, paper, posts, bioenergy) and brash (bioenergy). Tree breeding research for Sitka spruce has led to improved productivity and quality with much improved wood availability forecasts. Investment in the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre through the Advanced Timber Construction Challenge fund is looking at increasing manufacturing and adding value in timber frame construction.

Some case studies from Wales

Graham summarised some Welsh based research projects including heat treatment of timber. Whilst this project saw the first small scale heat treatment plant in the UK being established in Wales, it was not commercialised. UK timber must currently be sent abroad if heat treatment is required. Other projects included; resin modification of timber (Radiata pine imported from New Zealand) by Lignia in South Wales, conversion of Sitka spruce into blanks for CLT production and a research project looking at laser incising to increase the permeability of timber to aid treatment options while maintaining strength and appearance.

The final session of presentations for the day looked at how we get to zero carbon homes by 2030. Sarah Laing-Gibbens (Welsh Government, Homes and Places) chaired the session and set the context saying that it’s not just about the number of homes that we build it’s also about the way we build those homes. She ended her presentation saying that we can’t carry on as we are and we need higher building standards and design quality, we need to close the building performance gap and we need to look at how buildings can perform better for the long term.

Housing Performance

Professor Fionn Stevenson (Sheffield University) shared some of her experiences in housing performance with her talk on, “Housing Fit for Purpose: Performance, Feedback and Learning”. The big take home message from her talk was that we must be designing in Post Occupancy Evaluations (POE) into every project now and feedback what is learnt into the brief of subsequent projects. POE she said can be done quickly and effectively – and if the home is preforming as expected then there is no need to carry on with costly tests – just STOP HERE. If however problems are found then more in-depth, and expensive POEs are required.

Overheating in retrofit and new build projects was a recurring issue on many sites, single aspect plans and poor ventilation being prime contributors to this. Both of these issues were mentioned as being of particular concern in some modular builds (including timber) where single aspect and lack of cross ventilation can be an issue. These problems could quite easily be designed out at an early stage but are difficult to correct retrospectively.

Delegates during the Expo at WoodBUILD2019

When considering the performance of our buildings it is not just the energy used to heat/cool that building that we need to think about but also the energy and other environmental impacts used to produce the materials from which the building is made. Callum Hill (JCH Consulting) explored different ways of accounting for the carbon in a variety of building products looking at units of comparison and how we deal with sequestered and atmospheric carbon.

Eilidh Forster (Bangor University) showcased the first iteration of an infographic she is developed to visualise carbon capture (in trees) with storage of that carbon in houses. She reported on some modelling work which she has undertaken comparing two different build types – a timber frame with a brick façade and a traditional brick and block build. A 20% reduction in the total embedded carbon footprint was reported for a typical semi-detached house build from timber frame rather than brick and block. Every kg of wood used in the building reduces the C footprint and every kg of concrete or steel avoided reduces the C footprint.

Sparks Fly during the Accelerator Pitches!

Back row: Robin Lancaster (BMTrada), Darren Jarman (Lowfield Timber Frame), Tabitha Binding (Trada), Mima Letts (Tree Sparks) Front Row: Andrew Mitchel (NBT), Jasper Meade (PYC Construction), Lee Roberts (Custom Precision Joinery), Penny Randel (EBS), Charlotte Hale (SOModular)

The two minute accelerator pitches this year saw three timber frame manufactures participate, Lowfield, PYC Construction and SOModular. These companies showed just how dedicated, professional and passionate they are about what they do. The joinery sector was represented by Custom Precision Joinery who brought with them to the conference a window they had made from Welsh larch. Confor spoke on behalf of the forestry support sector while BMTrada showed us what support they could offer these using timber in buildings. Tabitha Binding representing the educational work that Trada do reminded us of the work that needs to be done with Universities in order to inform and train the next architects and designers of the benefits of using timber. And finally, Mima Letts, a student at Bangor University, gave a fantastic two minute pitch for TreeSparks, a charity set up inform school children about the variety of career opportunities available in forestry.

The BIG Debate

Christine Lellig leading The BIG Debate

For the last session of the conference the hall was reconfigured to form a ‘fishbowl’ for The BIG Debate which was curated by Chritiane Lellig (Wood for Good). The fishbowl debating style involves an invited inner circle of experts to discuss questions posed by the curator and from the audience who come forward and join the inner circle to ask questions or comment on particular points. It is a method that works particularly well to draw out different points of view. At the end of the debate all those in the inner circle were asked what they pledge to do by this time next year. A full write up and roadmap of actions arising out of The BIG debate will be available at a later date.

Closing comments

WoodBUILD is an opportunity for networking with different parts of the timber supply chain, something that seemed much appreciated and valued by those who attended. By bringing the whole supply chain together people start to understand issues in other parts of that supply chain, they find commonalities of purposes as well as differences in approach. Foresters would not normally meet with housing or joinery manufactures but by doing so we hope to foster an understanding of the interconnectedness of the whole supply chain. Policies, standards, procurement tools, codes of practice etc need to be adapted or developed so that they work together rather than against each other. We need to make the supply chain more sustainable and efficient so that Wales can become the high value forest nation that it needs to be. We have started on that journey but there is a long way to go.

Presentations from WoodBUILD2019 are available here