Macadamia shells are already used as a biofuel. Australian researchers are now proposing to use the nut’s extraordinary properties as a basic element in a new Microtimber, made using pioneering 3D-printing technology.

Until now, this technology has been primarily used for small-scale, industrial design products.

A research team led by University of Sydney architecture and engineering experts has received funding to investigate ways to 3D-print a new gradient timber panel using forestry waste and by-products, including the discarded shells of the popular Australian bush nut.

The three-year study, partially funded by the Forestry and Wood Products Association, aims to break new ground in the use of agricultural waste and 3D printing, which has the potential to revolutionise Australia’s building industry.

Dr Sandra Löschke, director of architecture, design and technology and co-leader of the research team, said the innovative work lies in the micro-layering and fusing of different 3D-printed timber compositions, to provide a unique material and geometric gradient suitable for large-scale building projects.

“We want to create innovative, environmentally-resilient panels that are customised to react optimally to structural stress and weather exposure of a building. We aim to not only provide sustainable but aesthetic alternatives to standard timber products,” she said.

“The aim is to establish scientifically-informed design principles for materially-graded elements, which will help industry meet cutting-edge demands in construction in the future.

“This will be made possible by bringing together a team of multi-disciplinary experts from across the university.”

The project will advance previous research into 3D printing techniques by co-leader Professor Andy Dong, Warren Centre chair for engineering innovation at the University of Sydney.

“Timber is an important primary industry for Australia. Architectural and structural design aspirations are driving innovations in new value-added timber products, including the conversion of so-called waste material into a bespoke product,” Dong said.

“The anticipated outcomes of the research are highly significant for the forestry industry. It could fundamentally change the way Australia produces timber-based products.”

Researchers will experiment and test different material compositions using timber flours, including hardwood, softwood and macadamia shells.

The team will produce prototypes for a sustainable and highly marketable Microtimber, which may be adapted for a wide range of building features such as walls, cladding, internal screens or louvres. As part of the research, the team plans to design and fabricate a demonstration prototype that showcases the benefits and potential of the new Microtimber.

The project is the first stage of a long-term research initiative by the University of Sydney exploring new design principles, material and production processes using cutting-edge fabrication technologies, which will deliver sustainable, alternative products for the Australian building industry.

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