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Could Grass be The New Lumber?

While launching a sustainable furniture startup during the pandemic, serial entrepreneur Josh Dorfman watched as the price of wood skyrocketed. It got harder to find high-quality lumber, and he started wondering what alternative materials might be possible to use.

Grass fibre shredding machine at Plantd's factory
Credit: Plantd

It transpires that with sophisticated laminating and molding machines, the fibers of certain grass species can be just as strong as wood, but lighter, and orders of magnitude faster to produce.

So, Dorfman teamed up with two former SpaceX engineers and founded Plantd. Their flagship product is a seemingly-regular pressed wood panel for homebuilding, but one that’s made from a fast-growing species of grass which can absorb 30 tons of carbon dioxide via photosynthesis in its lifetime. Better yet, the grass can be harvested three times in a season, rather than once in 20 years as in the case with pine wood. Therefore, it has the potential to radically lower the cost of lumber for homebuilding, and increase the carbon-capture potential of the timber industry.

“We see the greatest opportunity to lock away the most carbon when we make a superior product than what exists today,” says Dorfman. “And do it in a way where that end customer can still build exactly the same way… they don’t have to change in any respect.”

Fibers in grass and wood are chemically similar. The cellulose from grass is fed into Plantd’s shredding machines in North Carolina before being pressed into any size panels. When counting for the carbon stored in the plant fibers, the manufacturing procedure is carbon-negative, meaning it stores in the product more carbon than it takes to produce the electricity needed to run the machines.

Dorfman says there are plenty of under-utilized farm acres that could be growing their proprietory grass species, which can grow 30-feet in a single year.

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