Buildings made from plants? Former Space-X engineers in Durham working to make it a reality

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — It’s stronger than wood, cheaper and more sustainable.

A group of engineers in Durham are working to find a solution for the housing crisis and the world’s environmental problems.

It’s a non-descript warehouse, filled with pieces of equipment, a pile of hemp, bamboo, and little panels lining the walls and tables.

There, a group of former Space-X engineers are embarking on a new mission: to tackle pollution and what they’re calling a critical environmental issue.

“We’ve focused on the space industry for so long, we kind of wanted to focus closer to home,” said Nathan Silvernail, the co-founder of Plantd.

“Wood just isn’t sustainable. It’s going to get to the point where this has to happen. If we don’t do this, the CO2 in the atmosphere is going to get worse and worse.”

With tools they had to create and build, the Plantd team is finding ways to use different, strong fibrous plants that take Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere and make a wood-alternative panel that can be used in construction.

They use a combination of bamboo, hemp and other plants to make the panels.

“Entire buildings, like houses and, one day, skyscrapers. You can make anything out of this stuff, it’s extremely strong,” added Silvernail.

It’s a multi-faceted solution they think might save the planet.

“Air pollution and all that stuff. It’s not just what you’re doing then, it’s what it took to get there,” explained Silvernail. “For example, when you’re making a car, there’s a lot of machinery, a lot of technology used in order for that car to get built. That puts C02 in the air.”

The team hopes that this new, environmentally friendly option will make building materials a cheaper alternative.

“You can actually harvest [these plants] multiple times a year, instead of cutting down a tree once and waiting X amount of years for it to grow back,” said Silvernail.

“We want to build a lot of material, make a lot of the material, and drive the costs down,” added Huade Tan, the chief technology officer.

Then, it’ll be more readily available for developers.

They hope the accessibility will inspire builders to use their material. The team said the more it’s used, the more it can help the environment and drive down housing costs.

“The demand for housing is on the rise and the supply hasn’t really kept up,” said Tan.

The Plantd team told CBS 17 they’re currently working on their pilot line of products, which should be completed within the next 18 months.

They said they already have some builders and developers in the Triangle and in Asheville lined up and ready to use the panels when the pilot line is finished.

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