Repurposing scrap wood: DoD sustainability initiative

Aiming for a more sustainable future by transforming waste into reusable materials

The Department of Defense (DoD) generates a large amount of solid waste in its operations, much of which is cellulosic waste such as scrap wood, cardboard, and paper. DARPA‘s new Waste Upcycling for Defense (WUD) program aspires to convert these waste materials into strong, sustainable products that can be used in various DoD environments, thereby reducing the waste disposal burden and the overall carbon footprint of the DoD.

“Waste Upcycling for Defense (WUD) seeks to advance the science of densification to create efficient ‘green’ methods of turning various types of cellulosic waste into strong, sustainable materials,”

WUD program manager, Catherine Campbell.

The transformative power of densification

Densification, a process that increases the density of wood through chemical treatment and pressing, could unlock new ways of dealing with waste wood. It has been demonstrated that densified wood boasts enhanced mechanical properties, such as energy dispersion, durability, and a strength-to-weight ratio greater than that of steel. Current studies suggest that scrap lumber and wood chips could be a viable source for these densified wood-like products.

Biological processes: the next frontier in waste upcycling

The use of harsh chemical processes has been a necessary part of modifying wood and other cellulosic materials for densification. However, recent investigations into biological processes could offer a less destructive, and perhaps more efficient, alternative. These biological processes could complement, or even replace, the chemical treatments currently used.

Addressing the needs of a diverse range of applications

Beyond strength and durability, these new materials must meet other essential requirements for construction, including fire and water resistance, weather durability, and corrosion resistance. Furthermore, the materials must be scalable with a minimized use of chemical reagents. The WUD program intends to explore the potential of combining different types of cellulosic waste to create materials relevant to DoD operations.

Ensuring safety and effectiveness through collaboration

The WUD program plans to work closely with U.S. government and defense stakeholders, as well as appropriate regulatory authorities, to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the developed materials. The program, which is planned to last 24 months, aims to deliver a safe and sustainable solution for waste reduction and reuse.

“If successful, technology developed for WUD will foster highly efficient reuse of materials both in support of national security efforts and commercially,” Campbell added.

To learn more about the WUD program, check out the Special Program Announcement here.


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