Clemson institute secures USDA grant to expand use of wood
CLEMSON — Finding new markets for South Carolina’s abundance of timber, changing how commercial buildings are constructed and keeping the state’s more than 13 million acres of timberland healthy is the focus of a $250,000 grant awarded to Clemson’s Wood Utilization + Design Institute (WU+D).
The grant is part of $9 million distributed by the United States Department of Agriculture across 23 states to promote new technologies and support new market opportunities for wood energy and innovative wood building materials, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.
The grant comes at a time when a South Carolina State Law banning the use of wood as structural material in schools has been repealed and the state is considering adopting more wood-friendly building codes.
“South Carolina has a large supply of saw timber without markets and the demand for pulpwood is growing. This means our forestry industry is poised to capitalize on changing state laws and building codes. We also have the design and manufacturing muscle to produce sustainable wood-based solutions that challenge conventional approaches to commercial building,” said WU+D director Pat Layton.
Nationally more than 70 percent of commercial buildings can be built with wood and still comply with local building codes. But wood is forgotten in favor of steel and concrete when it comes to commercial construction.
WU+D and its partners hope to educate owners, designers, engineers and builders about the viability of wood construction materials in commercial and midrise buildings and deliver engineering, design and construction expertise during the building process. They will also work to bring new industries to the state and find new export markets for the state’s timber and wood products.
The South Carolina forestry industry has an economic impact of $17 billion annually, employs approximately 90,000 and exports about $1.4 billion in forest products, but the South Carolina Forestry Commission believes there is still plenty of room for growth.
“This USDA grant comes as the South Carolina Forestry Commission and its partners are working to grow the industry from $17 billion to $20 billion and over 100,000 jobs by the year 2015,” said State Forester Gene Kodama “The state’s primary forest-product manufacturing segment is strong. This grant will help expand the industry’s secondary higher value-added manufacturing needs, extend the wood value chain and increase job numbers through new product development without having to grow more timber.”
Private landowners own 88 percent of South Carolina timberland and produce 96 percent of the wood used by its forest product mills. Research shows that those landowners are holding their timber for longer rotations and managing their forests through thinning to prevent overcrowding, disease and insect infestation, and wildfires.
Cam Crawford, president of the South Carolina Forestry Association, believes the grant will change the way the state constructs buildings and how landowners manage their timberlands.
“We will demonstrate for the state and its various agency leadership the value of wood products and the economic impact they have on the state, and South Carolina will see better forest-management practices and healthier forests, including the state’s 600,000 acres of National Forest,” Crawford said.