DARPA will soon make strong and reusable scrap wood

DARPA will soon make strong and reusable scrap wood

The project called WUD would reduce waste and enhance construction materials.

Loukia Papadopoulos

Loukia Papadopoulos

Created: Jul 25, 2023

Scrap wood

Scrap wood

It turns out there’s a lot of scrap wood produced by the US Army. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, more than 80 percent of solid waste produced at the Department of Defense (DoD) forward operating bases consists of scrap wood, cardboard, and paper. This equates to almost 13 pounds of waste per soldier per day that could be reused if handled properly, reducing garbage and supplying useful materials for construction.

DARPA’s new Waste Upcycling for Defense (WUD) program aims to produce a process for turning scrap wood, cardboard, and paper into lightweight, strong, and sustainable materials for reuse in a variety of DoD environments.

This is according to a press release by the organization published last week.

If DARPA’s project works, the DoD’s waste and overall carbon footprint associated with construction and defense will be reduced while sustainable building materials will be increased.

How it works

The program is based on recent studies that have shown that through chemical treatment and pressing, wood can be densified with enhanced mechanical properties. This newly-enhanced wood allows for unique modes of energy dispersion, enhanced durability, and greater strength-to-weight than steel.

So far, these materials have only been created in small amounts with virgin lumber, but early results indicate that wood chips and scrap lumber may be used as the source for creating densified wood-like products. Better yet, DARPA has identified biological processes that may replace the harsh chemical processes needed to transform the source material.

“Waste Upcycling for Defense (WUD) seeks to advance the science of densification to create efficient ‘green’ methods of turning various types of cellulosic waste into strong, sustainable materials,” noted WUD program manager Catherine Campbell. “Finished products could greatly reduce the need for re-supply of traditional wood products, such as harvested lumber used in DoD construction and logistics.”

In order to be usable by DARPA, these new materials will need to possess improved durability characteristics, including fire resistance, water resistance, and corrosion/weather durability. They will also need to be scalable with reduced use of chemical reagents. WUD is also exploring the potential of using combinations of various cellulosic waste types to produce its new construction materials.

“If successful, technology developed for WUD will pave the way for highly efficient reuse of materials both in support of national security efforts and commercially,” Campbell concluded in the statement.

The WUD program is expected to take 24 months to complete and will work with a variety of stakeholders to ensure its safety and efficacy.