Cross-laminated timber buildings more earthquake-resilient with new high capacity connections, research finds

New cutting edge research out of the University of Canterbury has revealed cross-laminated timber buildings are not only cost effective and environmentally friendly but importantly earthquake resilient.

PhD students have discovered, with the right connections, timber multi-storey buildings could soon replace steel and concrete.  

Testing it out on a three-storey high timber wall, it was still very much intact after withstanding the force of a massive earthquake.

"The previous one we tested failed at 200 kilonewtons, which is a measure of force. That's about 20 tonnes pushing on the wall," says PhD student Ben Moerman.

And it's all thanks to new high capacity connections. 

"We have four bolts at the base of the wall and the idea is that when the wall lifts up then these internal bolts, they can bend and crush through the timber," Moerman says.

The University of Canterbury PhD students made the discovery while studying cross-laminated timber walls, meaning they could soon be used over steel and concrete in the construction of multi-storey buildings in earthquake-prone areas. 

"In an earthquake environment, we know that timber is much lighter than steel and concrete and that means less earthquake forces we need to design against. And also, you know, wood is quite a resilient product so with proper design it can absorb a lot of earthquake energy," says University of Canterbury lead researcher Minghao Li.

There's another upside - with the building industry contributing to at least 30 percent of the world's greenhouse emissions, the use of timber is more environmentally friendly. 

"We know wood is a sustainable material, so it can stop more carbon during a timber building service life. For example, one cubic metre of wood can sequester one tonne of Co2 which is a huge benefit for the environment if we can build more buildings with wood," Li says.

The construction industry could be in for a shakeup.