Today’s Solutions: January 19, 2022

Every year, billions of trees are cut down to supply a growing demand for wood products. Most of the logging, however, is unsustainable and negatively impacts biodiversity, land rights, and livelihoods. This process also compromises forests’ potential to tackle climate change.

We’ve previously written about scientists working on ways to sustainably grow wood in a lab, in a bid to help minimize the environmental impacts of the logging industry. Now, driven by the same purpose, a visionary startup has figured out a way to 3D print wood using waste generated by the timber industry.

The new process, developed by startup Forust, involves printing wood with a grain that mimics any type of tree, from ash to rosewood. To do that, the technology essentially uses two byproducts from the wood industry: lignin and cellulose.

“A tree is made of lignin and cellulose,” says Ric Fulop, CEO of Desktop Metal, Forust’s parent company. “When you make things out of trees, whether it’s furniture or paper, you’re essentially dematerializing the tree…what we’re trying to do is put that back together.”

As reported by Fast Company, the 3D wood printing process involves spreading thin layers of sawdust, and inkjets a nontoxic binder (including lignin, the chief constituent of wood that holds it together) to create the grain of the wood, layer by layer. Because the final grain goes fully through the material, it can be sanded and refinished like wood.

The startup says it could print a chair or a bowl in its finished form, without leaving any waste behind, which could come in handy for companies aiming for circularity, such as IKEA. It’s also possible to print intricate shapes: “We can make incredibly complex geometries that would probably take craftsman weeks or a month,” says Virginia San Fratello, Forust cofounder.

Plus, given the large supply of sawdust and lignin created as byproducts by traditional industries, the developers would face no difficulty in getting these raw materials. “They pay you to pick it up,” says Fulop. “It’s going into landfill right now. Hundreds of millions of metric tons of waste are generated every year just in the US alone.”

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