Forest Service Funds Georgia Tech Project Using Georgia Timber for Stronger Army Barracks
The timber industry, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are teaming with Georgia Tech to design and build better portable housing for overseas troops.
Funded by a grant from the United States Forestry Service (USFS), the project will explore ways to utilize new laminated wood products in the construction of temporary barracks. Lauren Stewart, principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor in the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Russell Gentry, associate professor of architecture and civil engineering at Georgia Tech, saw the products — called cross-laminated timber, or CLT — as an ideal material for both constructing the short-term structures and creating a new market for Georgia’s timber industry, the largest in the country.
“With 22 million acres of working forests and a $32 billion economic impact, Georgia is blessed to be the No. 1 forestry state in the nation,” said Andres Villegas, president and CEO of the Georgia Forestry Association. “That’s why we at the Georgia Forestry Association are fully supportive of the research that Georgia Tech is doing with cross-laminated timber through the USDA’s Wood Innovation Grant.
The Forest Service was looking for new uses for the CLT products, a wood panel typically consisting of three, five, or seven layers of lumber oriented at right angles to one another and then glued together.
The United States Department of Defense (DoD) spent more than $150 million over the past five years to design lightweight bunkers, or “b-huts,” for troops, which were an improvement from the tents typically used in combat. Georgia Tech is proposing CLT as a way to make the barracks more durable than previous building materials and ultimately safer for the troops.
The proposed CLT designs use less energy for heating and cooling, and the bunker will be far easier to disassemble and relocate. Both are key attributes for military housing, along with providing adequate protection for troops.
“New markets for wood are critical for the future of our state’s forests, and I can think of no better way to utilize our state’s sustainable timber resources than in a way that benefits both our brave men and women in uniform and our state’s economic vitality,” Villegas said.
This project could be used worldwide, but the research team has proposed it for the southern United States. The wood they’ll use will be mostly indigenous to the South, allowing for less harmful forest management and lower costs. The Georgia Tech team aims to motivate new fabrication facilities and spur economic development in the region.
“This project is a unique opportunity to bring together the USFS, state agencies, military, and academia to advance the state of knowledge of CLT, promote forest health, and develop an application that can enhance troops’ safety, security, and comfort,” said Stewart.
CLT has the potential for broader applications, too, as more and more designers look for low-carbon alternatives to traditional construction materials. The research team, along with the Georgia Forestry Foundation and WoodWorks Wood Products Council, hosted a symposium Sept. 26 at Georgia Tech on design and construction using mass timber from the Southeast. They highlighted hotels, mid- and high-rise buildings, and other projects around the country that are using wood products.
Stewart and Gentry were assisted by Ph.D. student Kathryn Sanborn, who’s also a major in the U.S. Army. The three-year project’s total cost will be nearly $375,000, including $125,000 that the Institute has contributed as a match. Other significant contributions to the project came from the Army Research Laboratory, West Point, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
By Jonathan Bowers