A start-up looking to find better ways to mass-produce lumber for construction has swapped trees for grass. It turns out that with sophisticated laminating and moulding machines, the fibres of certain grass species can be just as strong as wood, but lighter.

Entrepreneur Josh Dorfman founded Plantd with two former SpaceX engineers. Their flagship product is a seemingly-regular pressed wood panel for home-building, but one that’s made from a fast-growing species of grass which nevertheless can absorb 30 tons of carbon dioxide via photosynthesis throughout its lifetime.

Capable of being harvested three times in a season, rather than once in 20 years as is the case with wood from pine trees, the potential is there to drastically lower the cost of timber for home-building, and increase the carbon-capture potential of the timber industry.

“We see the greatest opportunity to lock away the most carbon when we make a superior product than what exists today,” Dorfman says “And do it in a way where the end customer can still build exactly the same way.”

Fibres in grass and wood are chemically similar. The cellulose from grass is fed into shredding machines before being pressed into any size panels. When counting for the carbon stored in the plant fibre, the manufacturing procedure is carbon-negative, meaning it stores in the product more carbon than it takes to produce the electricity needed to run the machines.

Dorfman says there are plenty of under-utilised farm acres that could be growing this proprietory grass species, which can grow 30-feet in a single year. “These grass panels could be a seriously useful innovation to drive the cost of housing down.”