U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says a central Iowa construction project shows the potential for a building material called mass timber. It’s layers of wood, compressed and nailed or glued together, so it can bear more weight.

Vilsack says mass timber can be made from the smaller trees the U.S. Forest Service plans to remove from millions of acres of federal land over the next decade, “remove it from our forest areas, reducing the risk of fire, creating jobs in rural places across the country converting it into these materials that then allow folks to construct facilities like this one.”

Vilsack is referring to the Junction Development Catalyst in West Des Moines, a building for commercial and residential tenants that’s made of mass timber. The project received a nearly $250,000 federal grant and construction should be completed this fall. Vilsack has announced the federal government will release another $32 million in grants to spur use of mass timber.

“It’s an amazing techology,” Vilsack said, “but it doesn’t work unless there is an incentive to make it work.”

Mass timber is being promoted as a low-carbon alternative to construction materials like steel and concrete. One basic form of mass timber uses boards that are first dried in a kiln. The boards are then glued together, with the wood grain of each board running opposite of the board next to it, creating large slabs. An 18-story building in Norway was constructed with mass timber and opened in 2019. It houses apartments, a hotel, a restaurant and offices.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Katie Peikes; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)