The French start-up Woodoo has developed a green chemistry process that transforms wood into a new sustainable material that has a strength range similar to metal. In the near future, it could replace concrete and revolutionize architecture.
Transforming the future of architecture to make it more sustainable could start by changing its very foundations; construction materials. That’s the idea that moves Woodoo, a French start-up that has managed to modify the composition of wood to make it up to four times stronger than traditional wood.
The company’s ambitions are everything but small. The worldwide rapid growth of urban centres —more crowded than ever— poses increasingly complex housing needs. By 2050, about 68 percent of the globe’s population will live in cities according to the United Nations. Aiming to meet these exponential urbanization needs while reducing the use of scarce resources, the start-up has developed an alternative to wood that could eventually replace steel, glass or even concrete.
Designed by French architect Timothée Boitouzet, founder and CEO of Woodoo, the process is based on green chemistry. It consists in extracting a molecule from the wood called lignin, then replacing it with a bio-based polymer resin, which hardens inside the wood skeleton. The resin, the company says, comes from either recycled plastics or from the synthesization of a plant biomass present on all continents, to avoid using fossil fuels.
The result is a sustainable new material that has a resistance capacity similar to metal or concrete, depending on its thickness. It is also rot-proof and less flammable than regular wood, thanks to fire retardants injected into the resins. The eco-friendly plus? According to the company's estimates, this "increased wood" consumes half the energy used to manufacture concrete, 17 times less than glass and 130 times less than steel. And it costs only slightly more to produce than conventional wood.
Also thanks to its polymers, Woodoo’s becomes translucent, which has enabled the startup to develop wood-based touch screens, attracting the attention of several car manufacturers including the Daimler Group, owner of brands such as Mercedes. Woodoo can produce parts for dashboards and tablets, among other things. Today, the company is working on a prototype of a tactile wooden part to equip Airbus aircrafts.
The young Parisian startup is now starting its first fundraising tour, but it has already won more than 30 awards since its creation in 2017. The first serial production line, currently under construction in Troyes, in the Grand Est region of north-central France, is expected to be operational by early 2020. A new production line that will enable the company to manufacture, it hopes, at least 30,000 square metres of hybrid wood in the first year. And, in the long run, to nibble little by little the monopoly of concrete in the construction industry.
This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.