Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Green Oak as a Sustainable Building Material

EPA Grant Number: SU835495
Title: Green Oak as a Sustainable Building Material
Investigators: Shelton, Ted , Bennett, Richard M , French, Robert , Retherford, Jennifer , Stuth, Tricia , Taylor, Adam M
Institution: University of Tennessee – Knoxville , UT Institute of Agriculture
EPA Project Officer: Levinson, Barbara
Project Period: August 15, 2013 through August 14, 2014
Project Amount: $14,977
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2013) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Built Environment , P3 Awards , Sustainability



  • To develop contemporary green (un-dried) oak construction techniques for the US building market that will allow currently underutilized heart centers of logs to be used as an extremely low energy, carbon friendly, beautiful, and high value wood product – as structural members in sustainable buildings.
  • To develop technical documentation necessary for the construction of a demonstration project that will further acceptance of this abundant, renewable regional resource.


In the Appalachian hardwood region, the “heart-centers” of hardwood logs are an exception to the otherwise very efficient use of this renewable and sustainably harvested resource. Because this wood has defects that limit its usefulness for traditional dry lumber products, this portion of the log is routinely sold green (un-dried) as “cants” used to manufacture shipping pallets. We will conduct the fundamental research necessary to allow for the use of green oak as a structural element in the US building market. There is very little contemporary architectural or engineering knowledge in the US about using green oak in building design and no recognition of this type of construction in building codes. Our work will respond to the specifics of species, dimensions, and properties of oak pallet cants in an effort to transform this resource to structural uses while requiring no operational changes for local saw mills.

The research team will conduct a variety of investigations. These include adapting European green oak grading standards to grading oak pallet cants for structural use, confirming grading standards by mechanically testing pallet cants, and examining structural bearing and spanning capabilities of pallet cants through calculation and modeling, and the design of composite members and trusses. We will also adapt European contemporary green oak detailing practices to the smaller cross-section (4 in. x 6 in.) and limited length of pallet cants.

Expected Results:

Technical documentation necessary for a project demonstrating the viability of green oak as a contemporary structural material. These will include material grading guidelines, mechanical testing, architectural construction documents and details, specifications, engineering calculations, and lessons learned from the construction of full scale mock ups.

Supplemental Keywords:

environmentally benign substitute, conservation, design for the environment, green building, alternative construction material, architectural design;