AHEC European conference shows the future for American hardwood

AHEC’s European Conference was held from 20 to 21 Oct, 2016 in Copenhagen

Last week nearly 150 European hardwood importers, architects and American hardwood exporters came together in Copenhagen to discuss the future for American hardwoods at the AHEC European conference.

Under the conference’s theme ‘The Future For American Hardwoods’, a series of seminars explored hardwoods in construction and new approaches to sustainability as two key drivers of demand for U.S. hardwood species. Practical workshops with industry specialists focussed on the technical aspects of using and specifying American hardwoods; from understanding the forest resource, the breadth of individual species, lumber grading and exterior applications. The event also provided networking opportunities.

Some of the highlights include:

Mike Snow, AHEC executive director, opened with an update on the globalisation of the American hardwood industry, commenting on the decline in domestic demand versus the rapidly growing Chinese appetite for American hardwood. He stated the astonishing fact that “one in every five boards of American lumber will now end up in China”. He also stressed the continued importance of high value European markets where there are opportunities for new applications.

Architect Jasmin Sohi from dRMM Architects presented the new Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre currently under construction in Oldham, England; the first commercial building ever built using hardwood CLT, made with American tulipwood.

Timber specialist Andrew Lawrence from engineering firm Arup presented the engineering challenges behind The Smile—built for this year’s London Design Festival—using the largest ever panels of cross-laminated American tulipwood.

At a panel session chaired by AHEC European Director David Venables, Daniel Kressig  from Zueblin Timber, Jasmin Sohi and Andrew Lawrence, expressed their views on the potential for U.S. hardwoods in construction and, specifically, on the next steps for hardwood CLT as a commercial reality.

The conference followed with an Industry Panel where American hardwood exporters discussed the concerns about the devastating EAB (emerald ash borer) and its impact on long term U.S. ash supplies. Other discussion points included white oak availability, given the continued pressure on log supply from the growing barrel stave market and generally how the hardwood industry could further adapt their production to the current needs of the European market.

AHEC Consultant Rupert Oliver explained the environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and regional risk assessment. He highlighted that “around 90% of U.S. hardwood supply derives from private forest owners, of which there are 9.8 million, with an average forest holding of only 15 hectares.” Mr Oliver also presented the American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP); a very easy to use visual tool that enables American hardwood exporters to provide a comprehensive consignment-specific shipping document which satisfies EUTR requirements.

Neil Summers (Timber Dimension) explored the growth opportunities for exterior applications of American hardwoods and focused on the several U.S. species which are clearly suitable for thermal modification.

The conference concluded with Dana Spessert chief inspector of the National Hardwood Lumber Association sharing on grading hardwood lumber.