U of I Earns $4M to Build 3D-Printing Technology, Furthering Sustainable Building Construction Techniques
September 30, 2021
MOSCOW, Idaho — September 30, 2021 — 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, which is scheduled to open next month.
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% 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.”
This project was funded by National Science Foundation under award 2119809. The total project funding is $992,148, of which 100% is the federal share, and an intended total funding of $3,974,309 over a multi-year period.
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About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu