Canadian Consulting Engineer

Building straw houses that won’t fall down

A new technology developed in Alberta is being used for the first time to rebuild a school in China that colla...

November 2, 2009  Canadian Consulting Engineer

A new technology developed in Alberta is being used for the first time to rebuild a school in China that collapsed in a 2008 earthquake. The Alberta Research Council has been perfecting  Oriented Split Straw Board (OSSB) construction panels made out of wheat straw since the mid-1990s.

Now the worldwide licensee, Panel Board Holdings Ltd. of the Netherlands, has opened the world’s first plant for manufacturing the boards. The plant in the town of Yanglin in Shaanxi province is expected to make up to 5,000 panels each day.

Construction materials are in short supply in China but the wheat straw panels are used in the same way plywood is used, and can take advantage of the abundant straw available from Chinese farmers — straw that is normally burned.

The Alberta Research Council created a machine to split the straw to lie flat for better bonding, and adopted the same resins used in making oriented strand board panels from wood. The researchers also helped design the plant in Yanglin.


Panel Board Holdings Ltd. agreed to rebuild a fallen rural school with the straw board, and is also using it to build earthquake-resistant low cost housing in China. The board is combined with steel studs, using western construction methods.

Wayne Wasylciw, who led the project at the Alberta Research Council in Edmonton, said: “This is a great example of how a technology developed in Alberta can make a big impact in the world, both environmentally and socially. …The circumstances in China lend themselves perfectly to this technology, turning a regional waste stream into building supplies while reducing their carbon footprint and providing much-needed housing.”




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