Trees, Timber, SiOO:X and the Environment

This tree
Is not only a tree,
It is where everything started.
It is the tree of life.
            …. Mia Ocean

The human debt to trees is absolute. Without trees the human species would not have come into being at all. Today the world faces the biggest challenge of all: that of global warming and climate change. In the vital and necessary debates about how to ameliorate the impact of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, trees are right at the heart of the discourse.

The world is warming – not from natural causes but mostly through human activity and the increase of so called ‘greenhouse gases’, principally carbon dioxide and methane.

It is vital for the survival of humanity that means are found to halt this trend. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was and is intended to reduce carbon dioxide output, or at least to ensure that whatever extra carbon dioxide output is produced is mopped up. To accomplish this we need to understand and apply excellent science. Professor Callum Hill observes:

Biological systems have the capacity to reverse or ameliorate this trend, because the atmospheric carbon can be sequestered in sinks, such as expanding forests. The process of tree growth utilizes atmospheric carbon in the production of wood biomass. Furthermore, this sequestered carbon can continue to be held in products that can be manufactured from wood. This gives rise to the often quoted property of timber as being ‘carbon neutral’. This is erroneous, in that harvesting, transport and conversion of timber all result in net carbon emissions which must be taken into account in carbon balances. But if timber is used to substitute for products that have higher carbon emissions, then real gains are achieved.”

By using timber in construction, it is possible to make buildings stores for atmospheric carbon. There is also considerable potential for reducing the energy associated with the production, maintenance and disposal of construction materials, because timber, in general, has a lower embodied energy and lower global warming potential when compared to functionally-equivalent alternatives, such as concrete and steel. An example is that although it requires energy to turn a tree trunk into a finished beam (sawing, planing, transport), it takes roughly twelve times as much to make a steel girder that is functionally equivalent. For these reasons, an increase in the use of timber in construction has recently been recommended by the UK Climate Change Committee.​

Image courtesy of Niall McLaughlin Architects

The arguments for the utilization of timber are complex but strong. The following conclusions can be drawn:

● If the forest resource is properly managed, then timber can be harvested indefinitely.

● The use of timber in products is a means by which atmospheric carbon can be stored in material pools – timber cities would lock up a great deal of carbon.

● Extending the life of timber products will result in carbon being stored in a materials pool for longer periods.

● Cascading the timber down the value chain at end of life ensures that this storage time is prolonged.

● Ultimate disposal of timber products will return the sequestered carbon to the atmosphere, where it is available for continued production of timber.

For these reasons, an increase of the use of timber in construction has been recently recommended as an effective climate change strategy by the UK Climate Change Committee.

The Sioo contribution to the environment and combating climate change:

Sioo Wood Protection are making a significant contribution by:

● developing and applying excellent science to ensure the more efficient use of timber, locking up carbon for longer by extending the life of timber based products over long life cycles

● only using abundantly available natural materials in a completely environmentally friendly way

● working with world leading wood scientists, universities and research institutes on sustained well funded research programs to stay at the leading edge of wood science

● proving the science in practice by decades of efficacy testing

● SiOO:X treated wood is inert, meaning that cascading and disposal do not present any environmental problems.

The use of timber cladding on external façades is increasing because of the superior environmental credentials that timber provides, but also because timber cladding is aesthetically pleasing. If the timber is uncoated, then it will weather over time, giving a silvery-grey appearance, which can be pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, this weathering is not always even, because of differing exposure conditions and the shadowing of areas of the building by overhanging roofs, etc. This is the advantage of SiOO:X, which develops through a reaction with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to give an even weathered appearance, which is not affected by detailing issues. Or for an instant grey appearance, pigmented versions are available. A major factor in the replacement of timber cladding is due to poor appearance, rather than failure of the material. The even weathered appearance of SiOO:X treated wood ensures a high quality and predictable surface for years to come, thereby extending the service life of timber cladding.

The SiOO:X products are making a significant contribution to locking up climate damaging carbon, helping us to tread more lightly on the earth and living more sustainably.