Researchers at Auburn University in Alabama are part of an interdisciplinary group working to advance future manufacturing, including 3D-printed dwellings.
The researchers expect that their research will lead to practical treatments that would have sounded far-fetched just a few years ago.
This could involve manufacturing that takes waste biomaterials and turns them into housing or construction components utilizing additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing).
The comprehensive research initiative encompasses diverse fields such as engineering, chemistry, forest resources, and architecture. This interdisciplinary collaboration not only involves experts from Auburn University but also integrates the collective expertise of scientists from the partner institution, the University of Idaho. Spearheaded by Michael Maughan, an accomplished assistant professor of mechanical engineering, the project unfolds with Auburn taking charge of a pivotal aspect. Specifically, Auburn will lead the efforts centered around bio-resin production, a critical component serving as the feedstock for 3D printing. Notably, the actual 3D printing processes will be conducted in the state of Idaho, further emphasizing the collaborative and geographically distributed nature of this innovative research endeavor.
The researchers aim at Increasing Sustainability
To enhance the sustainability of the resin, The Researchers process will incorporate the conversion of biomass into chemicals and nanomaterials, marking a crucial step towards a more environmentally conscious production method. Professor Brian Via, the director of the school’s Forest Products Development Center, sheds light on the housing disparity issue, revealing that only half of households have access to affordable housing. Serving as the principal investigator for a newly funded research project valued at approximately US$3.9 million (£2.9 million) under the National Science Foundation’s Research Infrastructure Improvement Program, Via is committed to addressing the housing crisis.
In highlighting the disparities faced by minorities, who experience poverty at double the rate of the general population, Professor Via underscores the urgency of finding solutions to this societal problem. The research project, apart from tackling housing affordability, aims to investigate the environmental impact of traditional construction materials such as concrete and steel compared to tall timber buildings. Via points out that tall timber buildings emit only one-third to one-half of the greenhouse gases produced by their traditional counterparts, emphasizing the potential environmental benefits.
As mass timber buildings gain popularity in the United States as a primary means of reducing the carbon footprint, Via emphasizes the role of sophisticated manufacturing in utilizing additional biomaterial waste from forest resources. This waste can be repurposed through 3D printing into housing and building components, showcasing a forward-looking approach to sustainable construction practices. The project, driven by its multifaceted objectives, not only seeks to address societal challenges but also aims to contribute significantly to the advancement of eco-friendly building materials and practices.
Developing a circular bio-based framework for architecture, engineering, and construction using additive manufacturing
The interdisciplinary project, titled “Developing a circular bio-based framework for architecture, engineering, and construction using additive manufacturing,” aims to develop the “next advanced manufacturing industry.”
“We’ll make 3D-printed wall panels for usage in housing and building construction,” Via explained.
“This will enable precise building in a manufacturing environment with sustainable resources
that can be supplied to the job site.”
“We are at the forefront of a transformative initiative led by Professor Maria Auad, Head of Auburn’s Center Polymer and Advanced Composites, aimed at revolutionizing construction practices. The cornerstone of our endeavor lies in harnessing the power of 3D printing to manufacture building components with a remarkable dual benefit: not only are they meticulously designed for recyclability at the end of their life cycle, but they are also crafted from biobased polymers and fibers.
Professor Auad emphasizes the critical role of sustainable adhesives in propelling this innovation forward. These adhesives, derived from renewable forest biomass and other discarded resources that would otherwise contribute to landfills, form the bedrock of our commitment to environmental responsibility. Our proposal pivots on the overarching theme of cultivating materials that epitomize environmental friendliness. These materials are engineered to be less dependent on dwindling petroleum resources, opting instead for natural sources or repurposed waste products.
In Professor Auad’s words, our initiative seeks to address the environmental repercussions associated with the current generation of composite materials when they reach the end of their life. It is a conscious effort to mitigate the ecological impact and forge a sustainable path forward.
Sushil Adhikari, a key contributor and professor at Auburn’s College of Agriculture, as well as the Head of the Bioenergy and Bioproducts Center, underscores the importance of leveraging forest biomass and agricultural remnants. His vision is to create resilient structures with an impressively low carbon footprint. Within our research, Adhikari elucidates, we are not only generating resins and adhesives from waste materials but also significantly reducing energy input. This multifaceted approach signifies our commitment to not only revolutionize construction practices but also to do so in a manner that is environmentally conscious, resource-efficient, and poised to redefine the future of sustainable architecture.”
Mentoring through Discovery
Dr. Via’s role involves exploring the application of a rapid pyrolysis technique for synthesizing resins from chemicals, particularly in the context of the thermal decomposition of plastic waste at elevated temperatures without the presence of oxygen. Concurrently, he is tasked with overseeing and guiding graduate and postdoctoral students who are engaged in circular bio-economy research, emphasizing the sustainable utilization of resources.
On a parallel front, Associate Professor Maria Soledad Peresin, specializing in forest biomaterials within the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, is deeply immersed in advancing nano-cellulose production. Her multifaceted approach includes characterizing and chemically modifying nano-cellulose for integration into bio-resin formulations. The ultimate objective is to enhance the mechanical properties of composites, specifically for the 3D printing of housing and building components.
In expressing the broader significance of the project, Peresin underscores its transformative impact on undergraduate and graduate students, providing them with an unparalleled opportunity to engage with state-of-the-art technology and contribute to sustainable development efforts. Driven by a commitment to fostering a new generation of professionals, the project aligns with Via’s vision of cultivating a STEM-based workforce and nurturing scientists prepared for the challenges of the future industry. Via believes that the educational impact of the research is vital, serving as a catalyst for shaping individuals who will play pivotal roles in the intersection of technology and sustainability.