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Plantd is creating carbon absorbing building materials from grass

Plantd is a burgeoning startup using grass fibres to create building materials instead of wood. Could this become a popular alternative in the future?

The drive for constant economic growth comes at a cost to natural resources, particularly wood.

The volume of wood used for lumber in a single year would circle the Earth’s equator 880 times if stacked in a straight line, or stretch between the Earth and the moon 45 times. Yes, we really use that much that quickly.

Though extremely profitable, the flip-side of this insatiable industry is mass deforestation. This leaves entire regions thwarted by pollution while simultaneously endangering surrounding biodiversity and any indigenous inhabitants.

It goes without saying then, that sustainable and commercially feasible alternatives are needed if we’re to ever systematically put a dent in the global demand for wood. Here comes the good news.

Serial entrepreneur Josh Dorfman, in cahoots with two former Space X engineers, has developed a solution that not only negates the use of wood completely, but actively sequesters carbon dioxide too. Win, win.

During the pandemic, the eco conscious inventor decided to launch a start-up called Plantd with one aim in mind: to develop and sell the structural equivalent of wood panels built using fast-growing types of grass.

Having already raised $10m in a Series A funding round, the burgeoning company claims to produce carbon negative panels stronger, lighter, and more resistant to moisture than wood.

The key ingredient is a perennial grass which grows 20 to 30 feet in a single year, and can absorb as much as 30 tons of carbon in that time.

While a typical pine tree grown within a plantation will take 15 years to replace, this grass can be harvested three times in a single season. When we used the word ‘feasible’ earlier, this is what we were talking about: an actual plus for supply chains.

The team is currently developing its own automated, electric equipment to shred the grass fibres and mesh it back together with the aim of quickly bringing the project to industrial scale.

Credit: Plantd

Going beyond just the product, environmental consideration has also gone into keeping costs low, and minimising the carbon footprint of its production.

‘We see the greatest opportunity to lock away the most carbon when we make a superior product than what exists today… and do it in a way where that end customer can still build exactly the same way,’ stated Dorfman.

The next stage of development will see farmers begin planting acres of such grass throughout ‘underutilised’ farmland within the US, particularly North Carolina – which happens to be full of disgruntled tobacco farmers apparently looking for new pastures.

‘Tobacco farmers don’t want to grow tobacco anymore… they’re looking for a more environmental and economically sustainable crop,’ claims Dorfman, who is keen to immediately fill the void.

To summarise then, we’re talking about a sustainable, low cost alternative to wood which actively sequesters carbon and simultaneously knocks steam out of the tobacco industry. Rest assured, a worthy challenger has come a’knockin. I’ll let myself out.