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Carbon-negative homes research earns $2.6 million grant

Exploded view of a modular home and its various parts.
Rendering of mass timber, circular house with modular details. Modules and panelized parts are all de-constructable and re-usable in multiple configurations that can increase/decrease building size. (Credit: Green Canopy NODE).

A two‑year, $2.6 million U.S. Department of Energy grant will support a team of researchers in designing and building carbon-negative homes to combat climate change in the growing residential construction sector. 

The project, a collaboration between Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State University and a Seattle-based company, Green Canopy NODE, was one of 18 selected in the area of carbon storage structures. The aim of the DOE program is to support decarbonization through advanced building processes. 

“Society needs the built environment. It’s one of those things moving forward that we can’t reduce creating more of, so we need to find a way to do it cleanly,” said Adam Phillips, assistant professor of civil engineering and a co‑principal investigator on the project. 

The team will be working to develop designs for carbon-negative homes using renewable resources that can be disassembled and reused for generations. The team’s research is based on the idea of circular design, a broad concept that, when applied to a home, accounts for its demolition before its construction. 

“We’re thinking about the next house when we’re designing the first house,” Phillips said. 

Closeup of Adam Phillips.
Adam Phillips

Bio-based wood materials make up the proposed homes’ components, including floor, wall and roof structures. At end-of-life, they are disassembled carefully and used in the next version of a new house. Carbon sequestered in a tree during its lifespan remains within the wood material throughout production of the housing components, thus maintaining a carbon-negative status for each iteration of the home. Phillips estimates the second iteration of the homes will avoid about 70% of the carbon emissions typically expected from a single-family residence. 

The research team will develop and test joints that will allow the reusable components to be structurally fastened during the 50‑year design life and unfastened without damage to the materials.

The research also has potential in the medium-density housing sector, which can provide more living opportunities near urban areas. The reusable single-family housing components are reconfigurable in a manner applicable to multi-family homes, increasing the availability of housing on a single lot of land. 

“We’re reimagining how to best use land to fit the needs of a new generation, without having to generate new materials,” Phillips said. 

As part of the grant, the researchers will also study the economics, geographical placement, and energy usage of the homes.

In addition to Phillips, the team is led by Principal Investigator Chrissi Antonopoulos of PNNL and Darrin Griechen of Green Canopy NODE. It is funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Harnessing Emissions into Structures Taking Inputs from the Atmosphere program and includes WSU collaborators Karl Englund and Ji Yun Lee of Voiland College’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

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