Innovative Shift in Construction: 3D Printed Biodegradable Floor Panels Set to Replace Steel

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Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Maine have developed a 3D printed floor panel made from natural, recyclable materials that is robust enough to serve as a substitute for steel in construction settings. This innovation is a component of the Sustainable Materials & Manufacturing Alliance for Renewable technologies (SM2ART) program.

Introduced at the 2024 Housing Innovation Showcase, the SM2ART Nfloor cassette panel is designed to supplant traditional steel-and-concrete assemblies, thus potentially rendering multistory buildings more sustainable. This development holds considerable importance for modular construction, which entails the prefabrication of building segments away from the actual site of construction.

The manufacturing material for the panel consists of polylactic acid (PLA) and wood flour, both of which are biodegradable. PLA is obtained from corn residue, and wood flour is a discarded byproduct from lumber mills. This combination creates a durable, recyclable material that is well-suited for large-scale 3D printing applications.

“By utilizing bio-based, large-scale 3D printing, we replaced an assembly made from 31 parts and three materials with a single-material floor panel that is ecologically friendly, and with the same strength as traditional steel floor fabrication,” said Katie Copperhaver, researcher at IRNL.

Using a large-scale 3D printer, researchers created the SM2ART Nfloor cassette in approximately 30 hours, reducing labor by about 33% compared to traditional steel floor fabrication. Scott Tomlinson from the University of Maine noted that the single-piece assembly is stiffer and provides a better walking experience than conventional steel-concrete floors.

This development underscores the potential of using organic materials in modular, multi residential buildings, enhancing sustainability in urban construction.


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