April 2001

Volume 10, Number 4

Green Topics

Compressed-Straw Wall and Ceiling Panels from Affordable Building Systems

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ABS acoustic ceiling panels will be virtually identical to the Australian Easiboard ceiling panel pictured here. Holes drilled into the hardboard facing and straw help provide sound control.

Photo: BuildingGreen, Inc.

The idea of an acoustic building panel made without binders from an agricultural waste material is highly attractive. Several years ago, such a product was available in North America from Stramit USA, LLC (see EBN Vol. 4, No. 3). That product was based on the British product Stramit, which was invented in the 1940s and has been in production for more than 50 years in England. Unfortunately, less than a year after Stramit USA began production, the company folded for a variety of reasons (see EBN Vol. 5, No. 3).

Well, this type of compressed-straw product is on its way back—but using a somewhat different, Australian technology.

Affordable Building Systems, LLC (ABS) has completed a manufacturing plant in Whitewright, Texas, where several different types of compressed-straw panels are now being produced for testing purposes. All testing and code listings are expected to be completed by July, according to sales manager Cindy Thyfault of ABS.

Compared with the Stramit USA product (which EBN used in a wall to partition off a storage space at our old offices), the ABS system should be more durable. Thyfault says that the kraft-paper facing on ABS panels is a lot heavier, more water-resistant, and smoother than the facing used on Stramit USA panels. (Improved moisture resistance should be a big benefit; EBN experienced moisture absorption and surface mold growth with the older product.)

ABS uses technology and manufacturing equipment supplied by Ortech Industries of Melbourne, Australia, which has produced compressed-straw building panels since 1985 under the names Easiboard and Easiwall. Once ABS is in full production, they will be selling wall and roof panels under the ABS 2000 brand name. The first products to be offered will be 214”-thick (57 mm) commercial ceiling panels, a 214”-thick demountable partition system, and a kit house system designed primarily for Third World markets. In addition, the company will be supplying thinner straw cores to the Buell Door Company for use in solid-core doors. All ABS products except the demountable partition system and door cores are identical to products currently sold by Ortech in Australia.

The demountable partition system is being designed under contract by Studio eg, a manufacturer of artfully designed office furniture made from environmentally responsible materials (see EBN Vol. 9, No. 9). Studio eg president Erez Steinberg told EBN that the driving design motivation for the demountable system is to “leave no trace”—both literally and figuratively. The aluminum-frame-mounted panel system will be designed to allow movement or reconfiguration of the wall while leaving no trace on the existing floor, ceiling, or adjoining walls. And on the macro scale, all of the components and finishes are being designed to leave no trace on the environment. Steinberg is developing six different environmentally friendly panel finish options, including low-toxicity paint, natural-fiber wall covering, 100%-recycled-content fabric, and bamboo veneer. Wiring will be run through a baseboard raceway, with vertical runs through wiring chases between panels that are created by the frame system. Steinberg says that the demountable partition system could be available in about six months if all goes well, but that product sourcing—particularly with the aluminum frame system—could delay introduction.

The kit houses are designed to be very low cost, quick to erect, and suitable as migrant farmworker or disaster-relief housing, as well as permanent housing in developing nations. These 500–700 ft2 (46–65 m2) houses can be erected in just three to seven days by semi-skilled laborers, according to the company. For this application the panels fit into structural steel channels, and the panels are finished with stucco. ABS expects to be shipping these kits in April, even before full structural and thermal testing and code listings are obtained. (Code listings are needed for the U.S. market but not for temporary or Third World housing.)

The ABS plant has a capacity of 6 million ft2 (560,000 m2) of panel per year, estimates Thyfault, if they go to round-the-clock production, with all of the straw being sourced within a 50-mile (80 km) radius of the plant. If all goes well, the company will expand to other locations. “We’re already looking to expand, especially on the East and West Coasts,” she told EBN. – AW

For more information:

Affordable Building Systems LLC

2750 State Highway 160

Whitewright, TX 75491

866/364-1198 (toll-free)

903/364-1108 (fax)


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April 1, 2001