AHEC European hardwood conference in Copenhagen shows the future for American hardwood

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. The event provided networking opportunities for the timber trade and updates on market conditions, as well as forecasts and trends which will impact on their business in the future.

Under the conference’s theme ‘The Future For American Hardwoods’, a series of discursive seminars with expert panels explored the topics of hardwoods in construction and new approaches to sustainability as two key drivers towards a bright future for U.S. hardwood species. Practical workshops with industry specialists focused 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.

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.

Next, Brogan Cox and Rocío Pérez-Íñigo of AHEC Europe revealed the new promotional tools and messages that AHEC Europe are focusing on through their series of successful creative projects, such as Along The Lines of Happiness in Italy, The Smile in UK or The Workshop of Dreams in Spain, addressing key messages such as promoting underused species or finding new applications.

Architect Jasmin Sohi (dRMM Architects) presented the latest shots and design details from the site of 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.

Following which, Andrew Lawrence (Arup) presented the engineering challenges behind The Smile, the timber pavilion AHEC created for the London Design Festival this September, in partnership with Alison Brooks Architects and Arup, using the largest ever panels of cross-laminated American tulipwood. This experimental pavilion is a vital step towards timber, hardwoods in particular, playing a greater role in the construction industry and making the built environment more sustainable. 

This presentation was followed by a great debate chaired by AHEC European Director David Venables, with the participation of Daniel Kreissig  from Zueblin Timber, and both Jasmin Sohi and Andrew Lawrence, who expressed their views on the potential for U.S. hardwoods in construction and, specifically, on the next exciting steps for hardwood CLT as a commercial reality.

The conference followed with an Industry Panel where American hardwood exporters discussed the concerns about the EAB and the U.S. ash supplies and the ways in which the American hardwood industry could adapt their production to the needs of the European Market. 

AHEC Consultant Rupert Oliver began the afternoon session by explaining AHEC’s innovative approach to communicating the environmental benefits of U.S. hardwoods by providing access to reliable forest inventory data, environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and regional risk assessment. Rupert 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.” Dr Randy Wynne (Virginia Tech) developed this theme demonstrating the power of satellite and drone remote sensing to monitor forest condition. Al Goetzl (Seneca Creek Associates) spoke about on-going work to review and update the Seneca Creek study.

In the ensuing panel discussion, the presenters were joined by Jakob Rygg Klaumann and Mike Worrell, respectively of the Danish and UK timber trade associations, who commented on the relevance of the Seneca Creek review to their members and market implications of the new high tech data sources described by Randy.

The first day concluded with an industry showcase which proved to be a productive networking event for both American exporters and European buyers.

The second day started with an interesting session in which Rupert Oliver (Forest Industries Intelligence) talked about the American hardwood resource and presented for the first time the revolutionary, interactive online map AHEC have created, showing the detailed distribution of 20 American hardwood species across the United States as well their individual rates of harvest and growth. 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 with information on the risk of illegality as well as sustainability of the U.S. hardwood species contained in that consignment and which satisfies all “due-diligence” requirements from the EUTR.

Next, 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; an application which AHEC is very excited about as the market for exterior wood applications continues to grow. Neil also talked about how as the industry prepares for the loss of American ash as a substrate for thermal modification, we must consider suitable alternatives and the audience suggested red oak. He showed some inspiring examples of recent projects made in Europe using U.S. TMT (thermally modified timber), such as Room on a Hill.

The conference concluded with a highly informative and practical session delivered by Dana Spessert, NHLA’s Chief Inspector, on grading hardwood lumber to the NHLA standard.

Further technical information and case studies are available from: www.americanhardwood.org