$1.5M NSF grant helps researchers build sustainably in seismic areas

By Ercross-laminated woodik Gomez, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers are collaborating on a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to develop guidelines that will help builders use more sustainable timber in high-rise buildings in earthquake-prone areas.

Daniel Dolan, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Washington State University is working in collaboration with Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Washington, Lehigh University, University of Nevada at Reno, Forest Products Lab, and American Wood Council to develop new designs for using cross-laminated timber (CLT) in buildings in seismic areas. The project is led by Shiling Pei at Colorado School of Mines.

Testing 10-story tall structure

As part of the $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, the researchers will eventually test their designs for a 10-story tall, wooden building by simulating a real earthquake in a laboratory.  CLT is a relatively new heavy timber structural material made of lumber layers that are glued together to create thick, solid wood panels. The panels can be used for structural parts of a building, such as for walls and floors and make timber high-rise buildings possible.  WSU’s Brelsford Visitors Center and the PACCAR Environmental Technology Building are two of only a few buildings in the Pacific Northwest that include CLT materials.

More sustainable than steel

Because they are made from timber from small-diameter trees, CLT materials are more sustainable than steel or concrete materials that are typically used in high-rise construction. The material also allows for a significant reduction in construction time and project costs. For instance, a nine-story CLT structure in London took 27 days to build with four workers – an approximately 30 percent decrease from a typical construction time.

However, the CLT industry in the U.S. has been held back by a lack of information about using the material in buildings in earthquake-prone areas.  Most CLT buildings are built in non-seismic or low-seismic areas.

Earthquake resistant

Dolan and his colleagues are designing ways in which the material could be used in a building to withstand earthquakes. They are looking at both structural, load-bearing components, such as walls and beams, as well as non-structural components. For instance, one of their designs includes a rod that would run down the middle of a wall that would resist the earthquake’s movement and re-center the wall when the shaking ends.  The researchers will be testing a two-story building on a laboratory shake  table at the University of California, San Diego, California in June and July, and will eventually conduct tests on their designs by putting a full-scale, 10-story building on a laboratory shake table.

“We want to create a building design that will have little damage in earthquakes and still be habitable.  This will allow communities to recover faster,” said Dolan.  “For many Americans, a house is the biggest investment they will have in their lives and we’re trying to protect it.”

Media Contact:

Tina Hilding, communications director, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, thilding@wsu.edu