The world’s largest polymer 3D printer is housed at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC). Researchers at the center are now working to use the printer to build affordable, sustainable housing.

The UMaine team, working in partnership with researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is using wood residuals such as sawdust and construction debris to create wood flour which is bound into pellets by biopolymers for use in the 3D printing process.

The prototype weatherproof and insect-proof single housing unit, being built in collaboration with the Maine State Housing Authority (MaineHousing) at the ASCC’s “Factory of the Future,” should be ready for outdoor testing by the end of 2022. Homes will be built in sections, including walls, floors, and roofs. When production scales up, it may be possible to print a 600-square-foot house in as little as three days. The process, materials, and technology could also be used to build apartment building.

Founding executive director of the ASCC, Habib Dagher, that said the center aims to “produce the workforce of the future.” Plans call for the “Factory of the Future” at the ASCC, which includes robotics and artificial intelligence technology to automate processes, to be up and running by 2025 and will include a training facility for students and industry professionals to learn how to operate, design, and maintain the machines and software involved in automated construction.

“We need to … not only develop the technology, but train the workforce that’s going to be able to operate this equipment,” Dr. Dagher said. “What we’re trying to do is develop fundamental solutions to the problems.”

“We don’t have sufficient resources to create an adequate supply of affordable housing,” said Cullen Ryan, executive director of Community Housing of Maine. “If we can figure out a way to do it with less costs, we win.”