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The timber revolution in a (macadamia) nutshell

The humble macadamia nut could be part of a revolution the Australian building industry, if a group of Australian researchers have their way.

A team of University of Sydney architecture and engineering experts want to use discarded macadamia shells’ water resistant properties as a key ingredient in a new timber product.

Their project is the first stage of a long-term research initiative by the university exploring new design principles, material and production processes using cutting-edge fabrication technologies, which will deliver sustainable, alternative products for the Australian building industry.

The researchers are using “micro-milled” timber or “timber flour” and other waste products to make a powder, which is put through a 3D printing machine to make walls, cladding, internal screens or louvres.

They hope these construction elements could be mass produced in the future, which would signal a shift away from 3D printing as being mainly for small-scale industrial design products.

As part of the research, the team plans to design and fabricate a demonstration prototype that showcases the benefits and potential of the new “microtimber”.

Dr Sandra Loschke

Dr Sandra Loschke

Director of Architecture, Design and Technology and co-leader of the research team Dr Sandra Löschke said the innovative work was in the micro-layering and fusing of different 3D-printed timber compositions.

Dr Loschke said 3D-printed timber composite products would transform the construction industry because they would do away with items such as nails and glue.

“It’s amazingly efficient. If you think of all the work and labour involved in transporting materials, assembling them; [imagine] if you could do all this in one step, with one material.

“We want to create innovative, environmentally resilient panels that are customised to react optimally to structural stress and weather exposure of a building.

“We aim to not only provide sustainable but aesthetic alternatives to standard timber products.

“The aim is to establish scientifically informed design principles for materially graded elements, which will help industry meet cutting-edge demands in construction in the future.

The project is building on previous research into 3D printing techniques by research co-leader Andy Dong.

“Timber is an important primary industry for Australia,” Professor Dong said.

“Architectural and structural design aspirations are driving innovations in new value-added timber products, including the conversion of so-called waste material into a bespoke product.

“The anticipated outcomes of the research are highly significant for the forestry industry.

“It could fundamentally change the way Australia produces timber-based products.”

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