While trees primarily provide the construction sector with long, solid boards cut from trunks, the associated materials, which are commonly considered waste, can be used much better. Scientists at MIT have proven this by looking at tree branches in their quest to reduce the amount of wood waste.
Tree branches in construction, i.e. from waste to structural elements
It all comes down to those pieces of trees that span the branches and take the form of a sort of the letter Y. They naturally arise when a trunk or large branch splits into two and is usually simply chopped up or burnt. This is a waste, as scientists who study these “unique supports” argue, which, thanks to the internal structure of the fibers, can transfer force very efficiently. Inside are structures that people are currently trying to reflect in 3D printing.
The work of the MIT scientists involved collecting a collection of these branches, scanning them in 3D into a digital database and then identifying the best ones using an algorithm. These are precisely those that met the requirements for the load-bearing capacity of a node in construction, in which two simple pieces of material join together to support the load.
In the next stage of the process, a different algorithm was used, which this time directed the cuts of selected elements so that they fit and transfer the loads as best as possible in the places where individual nodes are located.
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While it may still be some time before we see an actual building built using this technology, the team is already extending a trial wood carving that has been exhibited on the MIT campus, proving the potential of the approach. The current 12 nodes are expected to grow to 40.