Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

Creators assert a recyclable material-based 3D-printed home as a revolutionary solution to the climate and housing crises in the US.

Mark Wiesendanger, the director of development at MaineHousing, a nonprofit housing finance authority, found inspiration upon discovering a 3D-printed boat at the University of Maine. The boat was nearly 8 meters long and weighed over 2,000 kilograms. This led him to wonder if it would be possible to print houses using the same technology.

Maine was facing a severe shortage of housing, particularly affordable options for low-income households. Exacerbated by a slowdown in construction following the Great Recession in the late 2000s, the state mandated the creation of approximately 20,000 rental apartments to address this issue.

Motivated by the housing crisis, Wiesendanger contacted the person leading the boat project to investigate the potential of utilizing 3D printing for creating cost-effective and sustainable houses.

Initially, Habib Dagher, the engineer behind the boat, had reservations about the limitations of 3D printing technology for constructing homes. As the executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, Dagher understood that developing a home that was more renewable, recyclable, and flexible would necessitate a fresh approach.

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Printing a home from sawdust

Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

Printing a residence using sawdust was a concept that took several years to develop. A pivotal moment in this process occurred when seven pulp and paper mills in Maine shut down, resulting in an abundance of local wood waste.

Recognizing an opportunity, the team led by Dagher decided to convert this waste into a 3D-printable building material. They achieved this by incorporating a bioplastic binding agent made from corn into the mixture, effectively binding the sawdust together.

However, the project faced another obstacle: the need to construct the world’s largest 3D polymer printer to accommodate the scale of the endeavor. This printer measures 60 feet in length, 22 feet in width, and 10 feet in height. To visualize its size, imagine two tracks running parallel to each other, each as long as four mid-size cars.

In November 2022, the team successfully completed the first prototype of a small 3D-printed house. This prototype featured a living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. Crafted with layered sawdust biomaterial, the house surfaces emulate solid wood, departing from the typical boxy and gray aesthetic of traditional concrete-printed homes.

The prototype took about three weeks to construct, with the team printing four separate modules. They then assembled these modules on-site in just half a day.

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Remarkably, the prototype endured a year of harsh weather conditions in northern United States, including extreme cold temperatures of -45 degrees Fahrenheit (-42.7 degrees Celsius), heavy snowfall, windstorms, and intense rainfall.

Meanwhile, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the housing crisis that the 3D-printed home aimed to alleviate.

The number of rental apartments that Wiesendanger initially deemed necessary, which was 20,000, proved to be insufficient as more and more residents from major cities like New York began relocating to more affordable and rural areas like Maine.

As a result, the state’s population, which was approximately 1.3 million, grew by over 25,000 within a span of two years, putting additional strain on the already inadequate housing supply. In numerous areas, real estate prices surged by a minimum of 30%.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Wiesendanger promptly reassessed the state’s housing requirements and determined that approximately 84,000 housing units catering to all income levels would be necessary by the end of the decade.

Consequently, the BioHome team was faced with the formidable task of rapidly expanding their production capabilities.

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Increasing production capacity

Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

The advantage of constructing a BioHome over concrete 3D-printed homes is evident due to the cold climate in Maine, where building with concrete is not feasible for half of the year.

Initially, the prototype took approximately three weeks to print, producing 20 pounds of material per hour. However, by the fall of 2023, the production rate had significantly increased to 500 pounds an hour.

With two printer heads working simultaneously, the Composites Center could potentially print a home within approximately 48 hours. This accelerated production process is a significant advantage.

The projected cost for a printed dwelling is around $40,000 (€37,000), which is relatively affordable due to the cost-effectiveness of using wood meal and bioplastic materials.

Furthermore, 3D printing technology significantly reduces labor costs, which is particularly advantageous considering the shortage of workers in the building sector. This shortage has made it increasingly challenging to create affordable homes.

In addition to its cost-effectiveness, the construction of BioHomes also contributes to a lower carbon footprint compared to traditionally built homes. According to Dagher, the construction of homes accounts for nearly 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021, as reported by the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP). Therefore, the reduced carbon footprint of BioHomes is a crucial aspect of the project.

However, before mass production can commence, the project faces several obstacles, including testing the materials’ performance in different climates.

Despite these challenges, housing advocate Wiesendanger is enthusiastic about the potential to scale up the production of these composite wood-and-resin 3D-printed homes. He appreciates their recyclability and minimal environmental impact, as well as their insulation and affordability.

1 thought on “Inside a recyclable 3D-printed home

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