“There are at least five or six of these kinds of projects around the world on paper,” says Sam Ang, business development manager – Americas for foam manufacturer Armacell. The problem, he says, is that most people are waiting for government grants or other funding before diving into the testing needed to prove the benefits of a composites house. And, in a classic Catch-22, few of those grants are offered before testing proves the feasibility of a composites house.
Tiny Homes, Big Potential
The Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC) in Port Angeles, Wash., is testing that feasibility right now in a unique application. The organization has been working since 2015 to create new value from the roughly 50 million pounds of carbon fiber scrap typically sent to landfills. CRTC has manufactured portable pickleball nets, park benches and skateboards, and is now developing wall panels for the construction market.
Together with Washington State University, The University of Minnesota – Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute, USDA Forest Products Lab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Makah Tribe, CRTC has put together an initiative to take coastal western hemlock, thermally modify it and place it in a cross-laminated timber (CLT) that is integrated with recycled carbon fiber supports.
The hemlock achieves mildew, rot and bug resistance, while the carbon fiber adds significant stiffness and strength to the interlocking wall panels, explains Dave Walter, CRTC CEO. “That [integration] allows you to get longer spans in thinner panels than you could just do with wood reinforcement,” says Bridge.
CRTC has built a test panel and is conducting various tests to determine performance. Although the product is not yet commercially available, the patent-pending Advanced CLT system has been specified for the construction of 24 tiny homes, pending funding.
The homes, ranging in size from 240 to 400 square feet, are slated for construction on a 7-acre Port Angeles parcel owned by Pennies For Quarters, a not-for-profit organization working to provide homes for members of the armed forces who have fallen on difficult times and are homeless.
Once a home’s foundation is in place, Walter says that each tiny home can be built in less than three days using the Advanced CLT system. The warm wood walls eliminate the need for drywall and provide a strong, durable and well-insulated home. Each tiny home is projected to achieve an R32 insulation value in the walls and R40 in the ceiling. Ultimately, the project is targeting net-zero energy consumption.