If there’s to be a prefab construction boom, there needs to be materials to build with. Often, especially in New Zealand, things are built with wood. But one problem with wood, of course, is it contributes to deforestation (and habit loss, and oxygen depletion, and a host of other issues), and there’s only a finite amount of it – plus, it’s expensive.
Enter solutions like Tallwood, co-founded by Prefab NZ board member Daiman Otto, which combines wood with cutting-edge technology. As Otto told Idealog: “New Zealand is certainly ready for change, and there are massive pressures on scaling up and doing so affordably.”
Wood alternatives have been big in Europe for at least the past couple of decades. And the number of alternatives is continuing to grow: take Ekoa, a flaxbased “wood” developed when San Francisco-based Joe Luttwak wanted to make high-performance guitars out of something other than old-growth timber. As he told Fast Company: “We’re pursuing big customers and large material flows to really make an impact.”
And then there’s the work of University of Canterbury associate professor Dr David Leung: 3D printing live plant cells (a process known as bio-printing) to create synthetic wood. As he told Idealog: “Although challenging, there is potential to use live cells as an advanced manufacturing material in a yet-to-be invented, new industry. It is possible that other types of plant cells, such as the wood-forming cells of eucalyptus trees, could be used as bioprinting materials. Hence, it is a potential, socially acceptable opportunity for sustainable economic development derived from native forests.”
In other words, the day may be fast approaching when we’ll be able to grow pieces of plywood rather than chop down trees for them.