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Newly Discovered Plant Material Could Be Used for Skyscraper Construction

Global Construction Review has indicated that scientists at Cambridge and Warwick Universities in the UK have used nuclear magnetic resonance to capture images of xythan molecules and cellulose and examine the possibility of using xythan to bind straw and wood cells.

The goal is to enable bioengineers to both weaken and strengthen the walls of cellulose, enabling the formation of more durable wood products while simplifying the process of manufacturing paper.

The research head is Professor Paul Dupree, who is also taking part in Cambridge University’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation. The latter is carrying out studies to determine whether or not certain, improved, species of wood might be durable enough to construct skyscrapers.

Engineered bamboo and cross-laminated timber (CLT) have generated interest in high-rises constructed from wood, and the binding abilities of cellulose and xythan will potentially signal their use in future projects.

The proposed Oakwood Tower in London, which will stand 1,000 feet and 80 stories tall, is set to become the second tallest building in the city as well as the world’s tallest building constructed from timber. PLP Architecture, in conjunction with Cambridge University, is responsible for the design.


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Advocates of CLT say that the engineered wood is just as durable as concrete and steel, and can even be more fire resistant with the application of binding agents and glues that are flame retardant. When they utilise renewable timber that has been sustainably harvested, buildings with wood frames can also be more enviro-friendly than steel and concrete versions.

In 2014 Chicago architectural firm SOM published a white paper finding that using mass timber for building structure while using concrete for added strength at connecting joints could make a 42-storey wood-framed building possible while reducing its carbon footprint by anywhere from 60% to 75%.

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