Buildings account for 40% of the EU’s energy consumption. Conventional construction materials have a great environmental footprint relating to this high energy consumption and waste production. At present, competitive timber products with low environmental impact and low waste generation have no great presence in the market, and wooden houses are significantly more expensive than conventional housing. Moreover, most forests in the European region Galicia-North Portugal are not sustainably managed owing to the high cost burden. Furthermore, the low added value of the timber products obtained from these forests hamper investments in sustainable forest management.
The main objectives of LIFE EcoTimberCell were to contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption of buildings, at the same time as increased carbon sequestration in the manufacturing process of materials, in the construction process and in the use of buildings and promoting the sustainable management of forests.
The specific objectives of the project were to:
- Reduce energy consumption associated with the production of the structural construction elements;
- Reduce the energy demand during the use of the building;
- Reduce waste relating to construction and therefore reduce the amount of energy consumed by waste treatment;
- Increase the added value of local wood by developing different technological products with structural applications in buildings;
- Support the forestry sector by increasing the demand for local certified wood and promoting sustainable forestry; and
- Foster the use of environmentally friendly adhesives with natural components based on lignin as an alternative to potentially harmful chemicals.
The project aimed to contribute to achieving the goals of the Waste Framework Directive and the directives on energy efficiency energy performance of buildings, as well as the 2020 European climate and energy package, the 2030 European climate and energy framework and the 2050 Low carbon economy roadmap.
The LIFE EcoTimberCell project team developed an innovative timber construction system based on the EcoTimberCell (ETC) (or Beam), the ETC Box, and the ETC Frame. With these modular elements, they designed ETC Homes, with a high rate of CO2 sequestration.
ETC technology promotes the sustainable management of forests and the use of products with low embodied energy and environmental friendly adhesives; the system uses a minimum volume of timber and artificial adhesives, calculated as 50% and 76% less than alternative timber building systems, respectively. The project team also showed that significant savings can be achieved in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption in the construction phase, and in terms of energy and CO2 emissions in the use phase. Furthermore, a standard ETC Home of 120 m2 stores around 17 t CO2, boosting its positive impact. The main ETC elements, such as the Beam and Box, have obtained the CE certification mark.
The project team have actively promoted sustainable construction through the use of these and other timber products, as well as sustainable forest management in Galicia (Spain), using only certified timber and adding value to the local wood.
During the project a new spin-off company was created, Timbersoul by Cándido Hermida. This new company started a technical office providing timber solutions for construction, including the ETC system; so commercialising the project technology, including a part of the production. It aims at fully producing the ETC system in the medium term.