Plant material discovery could benefit future wood skyscraper construction

Dive Brief:

  • Scientists at Cambridge and Warwick Universities in England have used solid state nuclear magnetic resonance to image cellulose and xythan molecules and determine xythan’s role as a molecular super glue in wood and straw cells, according to Global Construction Review.
  • The discovery is anticipated to allow bioengineers to both strengthen and weaken cellulose walls, leading to the creation of stronger woods while easing the manufacturing process for papers.
  • Professor Paul Dupree led the research and is also involved in the Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge, which is studying whether or not improved wood species might be strong enough to build skyscrapers.

Dive Insight:

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) and engineered bamboo have driven a growing interest in wood-constructed high-rises, and the application of new cellulose and xythan binding properties will likely find their way into future wood projects. Designed by PLP Architecture in collaboration with Cambridge University, London’s proposed Oakwood Tower — at 80 stories and 1,000 feet tall — is set to become the world’s tallest timber constructed building and the second tallest building in London overall. 

CLT advocates say that engineered timber is just as strong as steel and concrete, and with the use of flame retardant glues and binding agents, can be even more fire resistant. Wood-framed buildings can also be more environmentally friendly than their concrete and steel counterparts when they utilize sustainably harvested renewable timber.

A 2014 white paper by Chicago-based architectural firm SOM found that using mass timber for structural elements while using concrete only for supplementary strength at connecting joints could make a 42-story wood-framed tower feasible while reducing the building’s carbon footprint by 60% to 75%.  

Filed Under: Residential Building Technology Green Building Products
Top image credit: University of Cambridge