Are Timber Tiles Set to Shake Up the $415B Ceramics Industry?

The new tiles are net-zero, fully biodegradable with one felled Hemlock tree producing 250 boxes of tiles.

Tue 16 Apr 24


Timber tiles could soon replace ceramic tiles, with legacy manufacturers grappling with a global crackdown on construction-based carbon emissions. Not only are timber tiles cleaner, greener, and more circular, but thanks to new technology, more than 250 boxes of tiles can now be produced from a single felled Hemlock tree.

That is according to Mark Anson, a former researcher at FP Innovations – a Canadian R&D lab focused on the wood, paper and pulp industry, who is behind Timber Tiles, a Canadian First Nations-owned start-up now making waterproof and compostable tiles for kitchens, bathrooms, foyers and other high-traffic areas.

Mr Anson said the new tiles, which are now eying the Japanese market, offer an alternative to climate-harming ceramic tiles, which are often manufactured through a carbon-intensive process and end up in landfills. 

‘It’s about education and getting our story out there to designers and architects,’ Mr Anson told British Columbian The Tyee, who has big plans to build on a new distribution market with Mihasi Co, a large Japanese-based distributor and manufacturer of crown mouldering and other decorative finishing materials.

Considered a “dirty business,” modern ceramics are used in decorative tiles, roofing, artificial joints and brake pads and are part of a global industry forecast to reach US $415 billion next year, according to a 2022 Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews study.

Thanks to the EU Green Deal, manufacturers must decarbonise and remove greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains. This footage is courtesy of @IntoEurope.

In 2012, researchers estimated that China, the world’s largest tile industry, emitted 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from 50 billion cubic metres of ceramic tiles in 2007. Likewise, the European sector, worth US $31 billion in 2021, generated more than 19 million tonnes of CO2.

Now, thanks to the European Union’s Green Deal, manufacturers must pivot from fossil fuels to other energy sources to meet the EU’s Paris COP21 commitments—with all industries required to cut emissions by 55% below 1990 levels to reach net zero by 2050. 

That means tile makers must rapidly transition from fossil fuels to other energy sources, such as biogas, green electricity, or hydrogen if they hope to reach that target in 25 years. Or, as Mr Anson hopes, buyers could pivot to wooden tiles.

The idea of making tiles from wood comes from Mr Anson’s time as a researcher at FPInnovations, where he explored new uses for lower-grade hemlock, undervalued timber due to its moisture content. At the time, FPInnovations was collaborating with Western Forest Products’ Alberni-Pacific Division sawmill to develop new products from hemlock that were considered too wet to sell.

“We tried making all kinds of things, including tiles,” Mr Anson said, who lost his role at FPInnovations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Introducing Timber Tiles – Made of Hemlock sustainably harvested from forests on Vancouver Island, The product of more than five years of rigorous research and development they are produced by an innovative manufacturing process that brings out the full range of hemlock’s beautiful grain patterns and colour tones. Footage courtesy of @timbertiles4500.

That’s when Mr Anson took the leap of faith and, partnering with former colleagues Dave Dempster and John Hoffmann, founded ReaplyWood Design and Research—the incubator for Timber Tiles – with the trio securing a warehouse in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

Using a technique he helped develop at FPInnovations, which begins by sawing a four-inch-by-four-inch chunk of hemlock at an angle into smaller pieces. Odd-angled pieces are glued together to form a new laminated piece of timber. After the wood is dried, it’s milled into rough strips, cut to length, planed, sanded, treated with wax, and cured using a UV treatment.

“Cutting on an angle allows us to dry and finish the tile efficiently. It also reveals the beautiful grain and texture of the wood in a new way,” Mr Anson said – with the trio successfully designing custom-made machines to accompany industrial thickness planers, saws, and sanders.

However, in 2022, the project hit a setback when the Western Forest Products mill—its primary supplier—shut down. According to Mr Anson, “We had basically run out of money and our source of wood fibre.” 

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In 2023, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations people took a majority share in the business, looking to capitalise on its abundant Hemlock trees on its tenure. (Photo Credit: Rebecca Bollwitt CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)

That was until Huu-ay-at First Nations came to the rescue. Patrick Schmidt, CEO of the HFN Group of Businesses, said the fit was right because the Huu-ay-aht have plenty of hemlock on their tenure lands, and the business meshed well with their “sacred principles” of respect, stewardship and interconnectedness.

In April last year, the First Nation bought a 75% stake in the business and announced that Mr Anson would remain CEO.

“The Huu-ay-aht are looking for value-added opportunities for hemlock. It’s an underutilised species,” Mr Schmidt said. “And I think the timing is right because of the pressure to decarbonise the construction sector.”

As the majority owner, Huu-ay-aht First Nations controls most of the value chain. The finished product is harvested from hemlock trees on tenure lands, shipped in boxes containing 72 tiles each and shrink-wrapped in biodegradable bioplastic.

According to Mr Anson, the company is working on a third-party-verified Environmental Product Declaration through EPD International and a life cycle assessment. While the process is voluntary, Mr Anson said it’s an important tool to give the product access to design markets.

“That process is still underway, but I can tell you, Timber Tiles is going to perform very well,” Mr Anson said. “We sequester carbon in the product, we’re locally produced, and the tiles are designed to go on a wall for 70 years.”

“For every hemlock tree harvested,” we “can produce 250 boxes of tiles,” with one tree planted per box sold, as part of the One Tree Planted initiative. “That works out to 250 trees planted for every hemlock tree harvested to make tiles,” Mr Anson said.

Mr Schmidt has high hopes for Timber Tiles and envisions a day when 30 people work at a scaled-up Port Alberni factory.

That day may be sooner than many think!


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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