What if I told you that humans have figured out how to “grow” and 3D print wood? Sounds pretty far-fetched, right? Then again… not much surprises us these days. But it’s all true, researchers at MIT have developed a method where they treat the cells from a flowering plant, known as Zinnia elegans, with a special gel-based medium and then use the material to bio-print wooden pieces of various shapes and sizes.
Given the grim statistics we face when it comes to deforestation, this is no small bit of news. According to a 2021 survey from Nature, more than half our earth’s tree population is already gone, and is continuing to be depleted at an alarming rate. So… it sounds grim, but we see something else emerging from the seemingly bad news. We see spectacular promise, as our predicament has pressed the most driven among us to search for solutions in places previously thought to be impossible.
We saw this with the recent announcement about nuclear fusion, and we’ll continue to see amazing innovations emerge to meet today’s complex demands… as we always do, humans will rise to the occasion with our powerful large brains and impressive thumbed hands. At this juncture in time, we’re all becoming more open to new tactics, new approaches to our living situations, and what they might look like.
Recycled Wood, Recycled Homes
We expect recycling to be a big part of this… while it may not seem like “growing” our own wood is recycling, we’d beg to differ. If grabbing up the cells of a flowering plant and fitting them to our own devices isn’t recycling, we don’t know what is. As we’ve been on a residential streak lately, we’d like to bring your attention to a project that just completed and unveiled that we think will prove our point: the world’s first 100% bio-based, 3D-printed home.
In November, the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) unveiled this structure, called “BioHome3D”. Made entirely with bio-based materials, the structure was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hub and Spoke program between the UMaine and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It’s 600 square feet, features 3D-printed floors, walls, and roof of wood fibers and bio-resins… and the entire home is fully recyclable. Yup, a whole house, made of biomaterials, that is fully recyclable.
Could we be witnessing another evolution right before our eyes? With a booming 8 billion-man-strong population, a housing shortage, and a world where raw materials are increasingly scarce… could we be witnessing the birth of a new subset of housing, the recycled housing space? Maybe… it could turn out that we don’t “sell” our homes in the future, we recycle them, thus living in closer harmony with our ecosystem, and perpetuating a healthier way of living.
So, what would the role of business be in a scenario where a certain segment of the population recycled their homes, and lived less permanently? Well… we think they’ll be more important than ever, as long as they practice what they preach. If we’re aiming for more harmony with our ecosystem’s resources, we’ll need powerful business allies on-board, and operating in as much harmony as possible as well.
Some companies already got the memo, companies like Republic Services, the second largest provider of waste disposal in the United States. Republic’s services include waste disposal, recycling, energy services, non-hazardous solid waste collection, and waste transfer. The firm’s facilities make use of otherwise-lost metals to be reclaimed, recycled, and repurposed. They do this by extracting metal from ash that is already found in landfills, as well as newly delivered ash.
Not only do they reclaim and reuse, but their facilities are powered using solar, so they are definitely practicing what they preach. Their panels generate enough energy to run facilities for two to three months, and their plants can process millions of pounds of recycled paper each day. Utilizing optical sorters, the plant whirls along at incredible speeds… and they are exactly the kind of operation that will be needed in the recycled home and “printed wood” future.
It may be that one day, when you want to move, you simply recycle your home and have a new one printed for you using biomass. The best thing about these possible homes of the future? They are more than just homes, they could also act as carbon storage and sequestration units during their lifetime. It could be one more step toward a cleaner future… and we hope you’ll join us next week as we bring you more from this space. See you then!