WIDE Trust grant supports potentially ground-breaking timber wall research

#Philanthropy@UC A generous scholarship has proven a game-changer for a researcher and his PhD student at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC).

Associate Professor Minghao Li and PhD student Ben Moerman have been testing large cross-laminated timber (CLT) shear walls in the UC Structural Engineering Laboratory to find out how they behave in significant earthquakes.

The research based in Te Tari Pūhanga Metarahi, Rawa Taiao | Department of Civil and Natural Resources Engineering could have far-reaching implications for the construction and forestry industries and New Zealand’s quest to become a carbon-neutral economy.

Ben Moerman studied his master’s in Canada before receiving a Wood Industry Development and Education (WIDE) Trust scholarship to do his PhD at UC.

WIDE Trust focuses on supporting development and education in the forestry and wood industry sectors by providing grants and scholarships to New Zealand students and institutions.

Associate Professor Li says the Trust approached Kura Ngahere | School of Forestry about four years ago, looking for opportunities to invest in university education as well as research.

He says he and Ben had both previously worked and studied in Canada so he applied for a scholarship for Ben. The rest is history. Ben Moerman is now in his fourth and final year of his PhD, researching the application of high-quality engineered wood products in the building sector, for multi-storey buildings.

Associate Professor Li says the Trust has been amazing to work with and allowed them to significantly progress their research.

“They’ve been quite generous over the years, contributing over $140,000 to Ben’s four-year PhD scholarship, plus a small amount towards the research project. We have a good relationship with them and they’ve been supportive along the way. Whilst the Earthquake Commission and Specialty Wood Products Research Partnership primarily fund the research itself, the WIDE Trust has made it possible for Ben to be here and be part of it. That’s the game-changer for us.”

For Ben, his PhD allows him to work on more specialised fields in the area of structural timber engineering.

“My goal is to play a part in making mass timber buildings more popular and increase the use of New Zealand timber products in building construction,” he says.

“We’re not talking about small houses really. If we want to compete with steel and concrete, CLT is the product. In New Zealand, we don’t have enough experience in using this product so the research is really about providing the knowledge for design engineers to design seismically safe buildings, with timber.”

Associate Professor Li says an additional benefit of wood is that the building sector can contribute to the country’s zero carbon goal. “Wood is a carbon sink; it can sequester carbon or basically absorb it from the atmosphere.”

As Ben’s primary PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Li says he provides guidance, support and advice, but this project is one that they are working on together.

“He’s the main person to do the groundwork. He is spending his time in the lab doing most of the testing. This is incredibly significant work for both of us. It is very different to the student–professor relationship in China, where I come from, but I really like this sort of culture. Overall we are a team working together to deliver something which is useful.”

The WIDE Trust has also generously supported a timber design prize, numerous undergraduate scholarships in forestry science and forest engineering as well as two academic positions in the School of Forestry: the WIDE Trust Lecturer in Geospatial Technologies and the WIDE Trust Senior Lecturer in Wood Processing. The support from the WIDE Trust has increased the breadth, as well as the depth, of what UC is able to offer in forestry, wood processing and timber products.

Reflecting on these contributions, Head of School Bruce Manley says, “The support UC receives from the WIDE Trust is really valued. It enables us not only to support academic achievement by awarding prizes and scholarships to our students but to continue excellence in Forestry research and teaching through their support of our academic positions. We are grateful to the WIDE Trust for their ongoing commitment to support education.”