Innovative construction method designed by UM researchers uses sawdust, 3D printing

What do you get when adding tons of sawdust, a 3D printer, and some ingenuity?

For the brainiacs on University of Michigan's BioMatters team, you get a radically new method to construct buildings with.

The material developed inside the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning could replace the traditional way that concrete used in structures is formed. The material is recycled sawdust that's sent through a robotic 3D printer. The finished product is a cast for concrete that will help support buildings and homes.

The Digital Architecture Research & Technology (DART) laboratory says the new method could recycle millions of tons of sawdust while reducing 40% of the costs for building with concrete.

"And the biggest thing is it's very easy to recycle and reuse," said Muhammad Dayyem Khan, a researcher at the DART lab.

Robotic 3D printing of wood-based material paired with incremental set-on-demand concrete casting to create zero-waste freeform concrete structures.

The team of researchers says the 3D-printed structures can be removed when they're done and fully recycled - making them zero-waste.

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Typically, when sawdust is discarded it's thrown in a landfill and decomposes, creating a potential contaminant for the environment. It's also a wildfire risk since it's flammable. 

"The amount of sawdust that is being produced out there—it is a huge chunk of material that is just being dumped or burned," Khan said. "So rather than burning it up and generating more CO2 emissions, it is so much better that we make it into a material that is actually capable of being used again and again."

The construction industry represents one of the largest sources of emissions in the U.S. - and is a hotbed for innovation and new building techniques.