This Startup Is Making Ultra-Strong Building Panels With Grass

Construction is a big carbon emitter. Cement manufacturing alone accounts for 8% of global emissions. But mankind certainly isn’t going to stop building things – in fact, fixing the housing deficit should be at the top of our list of problems to be solved. So we need to find more sustainable ways to build, and if they can be cheaper, even better.

Companies are working on all sorts of solutions in the green building space, from 3D printed houses to carbon negative concrete. A new potential solution is joining them, and a recent infusion of funding indicates that this unique idea could hold a lot of promise.

Plantd is a startup that makes building materials from grass. That’s right – grass! The fastest growing evergreen grass on Earth, according to the company.

Based in Durham, North Carolina, Plantd closed its Series A funding round worth $10 million in January. Two of its three co-founders are former SpaceX engineers.

What’s good about the grass

Like trees, grass captures and stores carbon as it grows, and some varieties may even capture more carbon than trees. This is mainly because of its speed of growth. Think about it: it takes a tree at least 10 years – if not 20 or more – to reach a mass large enough to use as lumber, whereas grass can be harvested multiple times in a season (though there’s at least one startup out there). this is engineered trees that grow faster and capture more carbon).

After testing several different types of grass and other raw materialsmaterials, Planted established in a perennial grass (meaning it grows back every year and doesn’t need to be replanted) that can grow 20 to 30 feet and absorb up to 30 tons of carbon in a year.

While grass is obviously softer than wood, it contains a similar cellulose fiber that can be broken down, reconstituted, and engineered so that the final product is even tougher than wood (check out this video that circulated on LinkedIn last year : a normal wood panel and a Plantd panel are subjected to a sledgehammer, and only one of the two withstands the test).

plantd panel
image credit: plantd

Plantd makes structural building panels for wall cladding, roofing and subflooring, and they say their product outperforms wood in every way: it’s stronger, cheaper, lighter, more resistant to moisture and captures more carbon – all for the same cost as wood. The panels are meant to be a replacement for a plywood-like material called traditional oriented strand board, or OSB. Custom machinery uses heat and pressure to press shredded grass into panels, with a standard four-by-eight foot panel using about 50 pounds of grass.

The difference

Plantd CEO and co-founder Josh Dorfman said forbes that the panels will allow contractors to build houses using less two-by-fours. “Our panels are strong enough to maintain more of a home’s structural integrity compared to the conventional wood-based panels used today,” he said. “Instead of using two two-by-fours per panel when building a wall, the builder will only have to use one. This leads to clear cost savings, and the experienced contractor will also recognize that less two by four means fewer thermal gaps in a building’s envelope where air can escape.” That means better energy efficiency and, ultimately, lower electricity and gas bills for homeowners.

Plantd is partnering with a local farmer near Durham to start growing several acres of grass this year. Dorfman hopes expanding and finding more farmers won’t be difficult, because many North Carolina farmers who have historically grown tobacco are looking to replace it with a more sustainable, higher-paying crop.

To process the grass into super-strong panels, Plantd is developing its production technology in-house and says it will be automated, modular, electric and low-emissions, with 80% of the carbon entering its factory in the form of grass. getting stuck in the building materials that leave it. They estimate that they will be able to produce the same amount of material produced from wood using nine times less land (15,000 acres versus 140,000 acres).

From now on

Dorfman came up with the idea for his company while trying to build a sustainable furniture business during the pandemic. As supply chains collapsed, the cost of building materials soared even as their quality declined. “That frustration led to my interest in launching a materials company using alternative biomass to trees,” said Dorfman. He and his co-founders launched Plantd in spring 2021.

The company plans to use its Series A funding to establish its agricultural supply chain and build its first manufacturing equipment. They hope to make their panels an industry standard, and their ultimate vision is to build the “factory of the future” to enable mass product adoption. They will have their work cut out for them; according to the company’s website, the US market for building panels is $26 billion, and the global market for engineered wood products is $280 billion.

“Our value proposition is about affordability, durability and sustainability,” said Dorfman. “We believe that the future will be abundant. With Plantd, the way to solve climate change is to build more, not less, because every new home and building is an opportunity to lock in atmospheric carbon.”

image credit: plantd

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