Ashley Beckwith and MIT scientists have created “lab-grown” wood with custom shapes — raising the prospect that 3D-printed technology could be used to produce high-value wooden furniture.
The study led to the creation of customisable wood in labs from the cells of a flowering plant known as Zinnia elegans, popularly referred to as common zinnia.
According to lead author Ashley Beckwith, the findings “can reduce waste, increase yields and production rates, and reduce environmental disruption as cultures are generated from a non-sacrificial plant sample rather than whole plants.”
Using Tissue Engineering, the work is the first time a cellular agriculture approach to plant material generation. By applying hormones to the growing sample, the researchers adjusted a wide range of variables — like strength, density, and stiffness.
Until now, scientists have used this method only for animal cell culture.
“Analogous concepts have not been translated to the plant culture space, particularly concerning the production of materials. This work thus represents a first look at a cellular agriculture approach to plant material generation.”
3D-printed wooden furniture could transform the timber supply
On Monday, Wood Central reported that the market for reclaimed timber is expected to grow 20% over the next five years to USD 74B.
The furniture segment leads the international market with a share of 31% and is expected to multiply – with the global government’s pushing for greater circularity in supply chains.
In November, Australia became the first country in the world to commit to a fully circular economy by 2030, with Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) revealing to Wood Central the importance of recycled timber in various applications, such as construction, furniture, and decoration, helping to minimise waste in driving the aims.
Earlier this week, the Australian Circular Economy Forum met in Sydney and heard from Dermot O’Gorman, the CEO of WWF Australia, about the importance of regeneration.
Furniture has long been connected with deforestation; however, following the introduction of the Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS) in Indonesia, deforestation rates connected to furniture have declined, according to new data provided to Wood Central by Forest Watch.
According to the Ministry of Trade, Indonesian timber and furniture exports to the European Union have increased in response to this agreement.
In 2021 it was reported that furniture exports from Indonesia were expected to increase 50 per cent to 2023, with the new European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) expected to lead to a further increase in timber supply under the TLAS.
Foray was established to 3D-print wood without cutting down a single tree
Last year, Ashley Beckwith and Claudia Pianica founded FORAY to commercialize research published by MIT.
Foray claims that it can produce tree-free alternatives and superior supplies for traditionally tree-sourced goods – with improved yields, reduced processing requirements and the capacity for on-site production anywhere in the world.
Early anticipated markets include high-value rare wood products, like oils and resins.
Rather than cultivate and destroy an entire tree to yield as little as half a litre of usable product, Foray’s bioreactors will grow only the valuable parts.
“When we have this discrepancy in total plant matter versus target product, that’s where we can make a huge impact,” says Beckwith.
As its development and manufacturing processes improve, Foray plans to expand into lower-value, higher-volume plant-based products, such as the dissolving cellulose pulp used in textiles and paper, a $165 billion global market.
Eventually, Foray aims to hone culturing techniques replicating commercially valuable wood macro-structures – like high-value furniture.
Beckwith envisions growing plant cells in the shapes desired.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we could just grow wood in the shape that we needed, without having to grow and then remove all the extraneous bits?” she says.