Affordable housing is needed in rural communities, and a team of researchers from Auburn University, in partnership with researchers from the University of Idaho, are developing an innovative solution to the problem by using forestry waste to create composite materials able to be additively manufactured into strong, reliable building components. The bio-resin development as the feedstock for the 3D printing will be the focus of the team from Auburn, and University of Idaho group will manage the printing. The project is being funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Infrastructure Improvement Program.

Sustainability is another concern of the team and sustainable adhesives are being developed from renewable forest biomass and other waste resources. Maria Auad, director of the Center for Polymers and Advanced Composites, explained, “The thematic basis of our proposal is to develop innovative materials that will be environment-friendly, less dependent on depleting petroleum resources and will use natural sources or waste products with the realization of the impact on the environment that the current generation of composite materials have at the end of their life.”

Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences is also involved, focusing on nanocellulose production and the mechanical performance of bio-resins in the composites used in the printing process.

Professor Brian Via, director of Auburn’s Forest Products Development Center and principal investigator for the project, explained, “We will manufacture 3D-printed wall panels that can be used in housing and building construction. This will allow for precise construction in a manufacturing environment using sustainable materials that can be shipped to the construction site. Through biobased polymers and fibers, we can 3D print building components that allow for end-of-life recycling.”

“Recently, the US is trending toward mass timber buildings as a first-generation material to reduce our carbon footprint,” Mr. Via added, “However, advanced manufacturing can help to utilize more biomaterial waste from forest resources that can then be 3D printed into housing or building components.”