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Trimble Fund


Principal Investigator: Dr Sebastian Pattinson 
Trimble contact: Ragnar Wessman 

Project Description:

This project will seek to develop a new, scalable process for 3D printing buildings using wood as the primary raw material.

3D printing of buildings could enable the direct and automated realisation of digital representations of a building in the physical world, leading to significantly enhanced productivity in construction while also opening up diverse opportunities to design and manufacture customized and novel architectures. A significant challenge facing 3D printed buildings, however, is that unreinforced cement (the primary material used in existing work in this area) is relatively weak in tension, brittle, dense, and environmentally unfriendly (with cement accounting for an estimated 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions).

Wood-based products such as cross-laminated timber are increasingly recognized as high-performance building materials due to their robust mechanics, thermal insulation characteristics, relatively low density, and favourable environmental footprint. 3D printing buildings using wood-derived materials would transform the construction industry by enabling the automated, onsite manufacture of complex and customized buildings using an abundant, biorenewable, and inexpensive raw material. There have been significant recent developments in 3D printing of cellulose, which is the primary structural component of wood, and also the most abundant organic polymer in the world. Using these processes in construction is, however, currently not possible for reasons including low manufacturing rate, expense of treatments required to make cellulose printable, as well as the degradation of the mechanical properties of purified cellulose in the presence of water.

Building on the PI’s recent work in demonstrating the first 3D printing process for manufacturing full-density and robust cellulosic materials, this project will seek to develop an inexpensive and environmentally sustainable process for 3D printing wood-derived cellulose for the construction industry.

Setup previously used by the PI to 3D print cellulosic materials (left) and a demonstration part (right)