An interdisciplinary research team led by College of Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Maughan has been awarded nearly $4 million from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program.
The University of Idaho is developing technology to turn Idaho wood waste into one the most sustainable building construction materials on the market — by using it as a medium for 3D-printing building construction materials.
An interdisciplinary research team led by College of Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Maughan has been awarded nearly $4 million from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program.
Funding through 2025 supports further development and testing of an additive manufacturing process and the design and construction of a 3D printer capable of producing modular wall, floor and roof panels printed from wood for industrial construction.
"We're developing a new composite material, using completely bio-based resources on a truly large scale," Maughan said, "With this technology, houses and commercial buildings can be made entirely differently. We can push past climate change, mitigate impact on our environment and make better use of the natural resources we have."
Working in collaboration with the College of Art and Architecture's Integrated Design Lab and the College of Natural Resources since 2019, the U of I team has developed an advanced 3D-printing technology using a binding agent and wood fibers not used by the lumber market — like waste wood and sawdust from mills and wood processing plants. As part of the NSF funding, researchers from Auburn University will join the team to continue to refine the binding agent used in the renewable material.
U of I continues to lead sustainable building projects like the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena, the country's first engineered wood venue of its kind.
The multi-year, 3D-printing technology project is expected to positively impact Idaho's fast-growing construction industry. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 60 percent of global waste is produced from the construction sector. With unique carbon sequestration potential, this new 3D-printed material is expected to reduce that significantly, Maughan said.
The research focus is on the structural properties of printed materials and the continued testing of the material's resistance to fire, water damage, pests and other degrading agents, improving its ability to stand the test of time.
Despite rapid urbanization globally, Maughan said the U.S. construction industry experiences productivity losses of hundreds of billions per year.
"Housing construction has very low productivity in terms of time invested and return," he said. "When you build a house, the contractors show up, they have to lift up the structure, frame it in. A number of things can disrupt the process — weather, manpower, tools, skill sets. It's all very inefficient."
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