Timber efficiencies could help ease nation's housing crisis

1 Feb 2024

University of Queensland researchers have found improving timber production efficiencies by just 5% could unlock supply for an extra 8,000 homes to be built in Australia each year.

The industry supported modelling was carried out at the $16.5 million Australian Research Council to Advance Timber for Australia’s Future Built Environment (ARC Advance Timber Hub) at UQ which will officially open on Wednesday 31 January.

Associate Professor Joe Gattas, who co-leads two research areas at the Hub, said supply chain efficiencies could result in more affordable and sustainable housing options for Australians.

“Early consultation with our industry partners has shown us where efficiencies can be made across all stages of the forest to building supply chain,” Dr Gattas said.

“Our research will investigate how to deliver these improvements using new technologies such as computer vision and artificial intelligence to get more usable material out of each tree and augmented reality and robotics to enhance productivity for time-consuming and repetitive tasks.

“Every gain in the supply chain allows more houses to be built and we hope this will increase the use of Australian-grown timber as a more sustainable choice for construction.”

Hub Director, Professor Keith Crews, said the research would encourage growth in the timber industry and identify new ways the material could be used in construction.

“We all benefit from more timber in construction – by delivering a boost for industry and supporting sustainability targets because timber removes carbon from the environment and stores it,” Professor Crews said.

“Timber has a key role in helping Australia transition to a circular and net-zero economy.

“While timber is commonly used in smaller dwellings such as housing, we are working with the State Government and industry to look at ways it can be incorporated into larger projects such as athlete accommodation for the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

“Making more timber available will also help support the Australian Government’s National Housing Accord to deliver 10,000 affordable homes over the next 5 years.”

Federal Assistant Minister for Education, Senator Anthony Chisholm, said the Advance Timber Hub funded through the ARC’s Industrial Transformation Research Program, demonstrates the benefits of investing in publicly funded research in Australia.

“Australians want our country to be a nation that makes things through sustainable practices, but this can only be done when we back initiatives like the ARC’s Linkage Program, which promotes innovative national and international research collaboration and partnerships with global suppliers,” Senator Chisholm said.

“The Advance Timber Hub will enable an advanced manufacturing transformation of Australia’s timber and construction industries, supporting resource diversification and creating new opportunities for regional development and employment.”

Acting ARC CEO, Dr Richard Johnson said the linkage program is all about bringing together researchers and industry partners to drive innovation and translation.

“The ARC is pleased to support this Research Hub, which involves strong collaboration among national and international universities and industry partners, to stimulate rapid growth in innovation in the timber industry,” Dr Johnson said.

Partners include researchers from 12 Australian and 5 international universities and research institutes working in collaboration with 28 industry partners.

The website has a full list of partners.