Embedded Carbon in Wood Products
Embedded carbon is the storage of carbon for long periods of time. Wood products are approximately 50% carbon by dry weight. The use of wood products in buildings provides an additional environmental benefit by storing carbon removed from the atmosphere. This ability to sequester, or “embed”, carbon makes wood an ideal product for buildings, which are designed for long service lives. Essentially, a wood building is a large carbon sink. This storage of carbon is a unique environmental attribute that does not exist in other structural products.
Timber as a tactic for curbing climate change is backed by a growing body of research and advancements in calculating the carbon footprint of building materials. In a recent paper published in the journal Nature Sustainability, experts at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany delved into four possible scenarios of timber use in buildings over the next 30 years. In the first case, “business as usual,” 0.5% of buildings are made with wood while the vast majority remain constructed of concrete and steel. There’s a 10% timber building scenario; a 50% timber building scenario; and a fourth in which the vast majority—90% of new construction—is made with wood. Their findings suggest that the lowest scenario could result in 10 million tons of carbon stored per year and in the highest, nearly 700 million tons. “Buildings, which are designed to stay for decades,” researchers write in the paper, “are an overlooked opportunity for a long-term storage of carbon, because most-widely used construction materials such as steel and concrete hardly store any carbon.”
While the research is limited to European wood construction, the authors of the study see global potential. “This is the first time that the carbon storage potential of wooden building construction has been evaluated on the European level, in different scenarios,” said Ali Amiri, one of the researchers of the study. “We hope that our model could be used as a roadmap to increase wooden construction.”