Skellefteå is What the Future Looks Like

This Swedish town runs on 100 percent renewable energy from hydropower and wind and recycles over 100,000 tons of electronic waste a year.

IN THE FAR NORTH OF SWEDEN, surrounded by over a million acres of forest, sits the amazingly forward-thinking town of Skellefteå, which runs on 100 percent renewable energy from hydropower and wind, and recycles over 100,000 tons of electronic waste a year, with excess heat from the process fed back into the city-wide heating system.

The town has wooden schools and wooden bridges, as well as one of the tallest new wooden buildings in the world, the Sara Cultural Centre. Rising 20 stories above the skyline, the towering Wood Hotel stands as a beacon of what is possible with timber construction. Not only is the process structurally sound, but it is able to store over 9,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.

Additionally, on the outskirts of town, Europe’s largest battery factory is under construction, including a recycling plant. The future plans entail electric helicopters for shuttling between the town and the factory, as well as longer-distance electric planes to tie the region with the rest of Sweden.

The technology behind the wooden structures consists of glued laminated timber (glulam) and cross-laminated timber (CLT). The net carbon sequestration benefits of the technologies are negated if the timber is not responsibly harvested. And this is where Glulam and CLT deliver yet another benefit; expanding the market for less-than-perfect boards. As these products can be made of smaller boards laminated together, manufacturers can use small-diameter and already-dead trees, making tree-thinning a more profitable forest management technique. This can contribute to healthier forests, even helping them be more resistant to fire.

Glulam is made from layers of timber bonded together, with the grain running in the same direction, giving it a higher load-bearing capacity than both steel and concrete relative to its weight. Glulam is ideal for columns and beams, and forms the structural bones of the cultural center, which features multiple theatres, a small museum, a library and an art gallery.

CLT – which we have featured in TD – is comprised of timber layers combined at right-angles to the next. This makes it strong in all directions, so it is perfect for walls and floor slabs. Prefabricated hotel room pods and double-skin glass facades that keep the rooms insulated in winter and cool in summer round out the basic construction specification.

The natural finish of structural mass timber, which can simply be left exposed, means that the tower was quickly built, doing away with the usual wet trades of plastering and decorative finish. A year was saved by using wood, compared with steel and concrete. Due to the pre-fabrication methodology for these types of structures, there was practically zero waste on the site, and truck rolls bringing in the materials was reduced over 85 percent. And the trees harvested for the project were locally sourced, which further reduced material transportation costs and carbon waste.

In keeping with the town’s municipally owned energy network, the Sara Cultural Centre and Wood Hotel use AI to monitor energy use. Excess energy produced by the building’s solar panels can be redistributed or saved in batteries on site. The same functionality for heating and cooling exists within the buildings that comprise the center. Wooden structures not only incorporate sustainable building materials but are healthy and energy efficient. Wood – and Skellefteå – is what the future looks like.

Paradigm/Marin Logan

October 2021 News