How cool is this? Super-strong, über-green German building material!

November 18, 2010

Sometimes, just considering the awe-inspiring properties of some of the new materials available on the market, offers an exhilarating exercise in beautiful possibilities! For the collective benefit of us all, brilliant engineers at the German company Consido AG have developed a non-toxic, extremely durable and light weight honeycomb panel made from cellulose and a recyclable resin. It goes by the name of SwissCell. The 4 x 8 fireproof and waterproof panels have a compressive strength of 200 tons per square meter (!), and can be machined with regular woodworking tools. The panels fit together using a feathering technique resembling traditional tongue and groove joinery, and are secured with glue. One single tree is enough to create enough panels to build a standard U.S. home. If insulated, the panels have an impressive R-value of 78 – double that of contemporary U.S. construction industry standards.

Pacific Green Innovations – a sustainable technology startup company based here in Portland, OR – is introducing SwissCell to the U.S. market. However, a trip to earthquake-ridden Haiti, triggered an idea in founder Charles Fox. Much of the destruction was caused by the collapsing of concrete homes that were stacked one on top of the other on the hillsides surrounding Port-au- Prince. Fox envisioned the use of SwissCell panels to help the island nation rebuild its devastated areas, and he wanted it done in Haiti, by Haitians. His vision grew into a collaborative effort with the Haitian government and backed by the William J. Clinton Foundation, with the goal of constructing up to 10,000 low-cost houses within a year, using approximately 6000 Haitian workers. A typical Haitian house will take four people four hours to erect and cost between $5-7,000. In this case, one tree will be enough to produce enough panels for three houses. Since the panels are made using a single machine, the import of a couple of those machines enables the Haitians to also manufacture the panels on site. One machine can make enough panels for twenty houses in one day. The houses are modeled after indigenous Haitian housing requirements. Most will incorporate electricity, and feature natural ventilation and airflow appropriate to the tropical climate. In addition, they will incorporate three bedrooms, as well as the ubiquitous porch, which is a vital part of social interactions in Haitian culture.

I wish PGI and its collaborators the best of luck with their noble endeavor, and I can’t wait to see future developments by Consido AG. Who knows, perhaps other, more fast growing plant fibers such as bamboo, hemp, sisal or abaca, etc., can be used as well, with similar results as that of wood pulp? If so, what are we waiting for? Such developments could mean countless opportunities for farmers of all nations and climates, provide excellent low-income housing solutions to needy, and employ scores of workers around the world. This is the stuff that dreams are made of.


About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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6 Responses to How cool is this? Super-strong, über-green German building material!

  1. Brian says:

    This is a tremendous project to rebuild Haiti. Instead of charging a big fee to the Haitians, you’ve empowered them to refit on-site with their own labor. This makes the houses strong and affordable.

  2. Pingback: Fragrant Questions | The Fragrant Man

  3. Pingback: Wednesday Vignette – suspense | Flutter & Hum

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