‘Fake’ wood


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.

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