Can Building Materials Made From Farm Waste Perform Well?
Originally published by: New Atlas — November 29, 2017
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So far as sustainable construction materials go, tomato stems and seaweed would seem to belong at the weaker end of the spectrum. But the team behind the conceptual Biological House are showing what's possible when you apply some innovative thinking and advanced upcycling techniques.
The Biological House was created by a multidisciplinary team involving more than 40 partners, including Copenhagen-based design firm Een TIl Een, sustainable architecture firm GXN, wood-treatment company Kebony and the Danish Ministry of Environment.
To begin, GXN teamed up with partners from the Danish farming sector to gather biomaterials that would otherwise be burned for energy, things like grass, straw, tomato stems and seaweed. These were then combined into composites to maximize their strength and pressed into boards for cladding.
Kebony then treated these softwoods by applying heat and a bio-based liquid. This polymerizes the cell walls within the wooden material, causing it to take on the properties of tropical hardwood along with a pleasant rich-brown color, which develops a silver-gray patina after exposure to the sun and rain. The performance of these boards was tested by the Danish Technological Institute, and according to the powers that be, help form a structure that rivals the strength of a regular home.
"It sounds like science fiction that you can build a house from things such as tomato stems, straw and seaweed, which is just as durable as normal buildings and at the time has a healthy economy and complies with the rules," says Danish Environmental Minister Kirsten Brosbøl. "However, the Biological House shows that it is possible here and now. I appreciate that way we really get some value from materials that otherwise would end up at an incineration plant."
Further using of sustainable construction materials, the Biological House negates the carbon emissions that would arise from burning them. It also sits on a ground anchoring system known as screw piles rather than a foundation made from concrete, a notoriously carbon-intensive material. On top of all that, the house is designed to be modular, which means it can be tailored to meet a customer's needs, be put up quickly and then disassembled without leaving a trace.
The Biological House, which opened its doors to the public this week, is the first construction to be completed at Biotope in the Danish town of Middlefart, an exhibition park for sustainable construction.
"It's been a long project, and we have all certainly learnt a great deal over the course of planning and construction," said Kim Christofte CEO of Een til Een. "It has been a pleasure to watch the team find so many clever solutions to the problems encountered along the way and we are delighted to finally open the doors to share this unique house with the public."