Jun 3, 2015 | By Simon

As it becomes more apparent that our natural resources are being depleted at an alarmingly high rate, everybody from scientists and engineers to architects and urban planners have been actively seeking out ways that we can utilize alternative materials or create new processes using various waste materials to create fresh material.  

Among other projects, Australian researchers have been actively working on developing a new project that leverages additive manufacturing technology to create sustainable microtimber out of discarded macadamia nut shells.  

Named by the German - Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller in 1857 in honor of the Australian chemist, medical teacher and politician John Macadam, the macadamia nut is indigenous to Australia and is considered one of the more valuable of nut species in grocery stores.  

The research team, which consists of architecture and engineering experts from the University of Sydney, particularly looked at the properties of macadamia shells as a way to 3D print a new type of timber - which could also be created from other forestry waste and be used similarly to existing timber that is sourced through more traditional methods.   

The study - which has been ongoing over the past three years - was partially funded by the Forestry and Wood Products Association that was primarily focused on experiments that tested the material compositions that could create marketable microtimber...whether through the use of macadamia shells or other forestry waste.   

“We want to create innovative, environmentally-resilient panels that are customised to react optimally to structural stress and weather exposure of a building,” said Dr. Sandra Löschke, director of architecture, design and technology at the University of Sydney and a co-leader of the research team.

“The work lies in the micro-layering and fusing of different 3D-printed timber compositions, to provide a unique material and geometric gradient suitable for large-scale building projects.”

While Löschke and the rest of the team haven’t shared any particular details about the 3D printing process that they are utilizing to create the sustainable building materials, they are also only in the early stages of the development process - so they’re likely still learning these details themselves.  Previously, co-leader of the project Andy Dong from the Warren Centre Chair for Engineering Innovation at the University of Sydney already explored the use of additive manufacturing techniques for the timber industry using similar methods.   

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

“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.”

This isn’t the first time that the University of Sydney has made the news for 3D printing-based research, either.  Previously, the school has looked into a variety of 3D printing projects ranging from revolutionary 3D printed bone replacements and bioprinted vascular networks to 3D printed synthetic bone substitutes.  

As for when we might see the 3D printed macadamia shell microtimber, that’s still up in the air.  If the efforts that the school has put into other 3D printing applications are any indication though, we can expect to see something within the next year or so.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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