$3.3M to Fund Neighborhood of Bio-Based 3D Printed Homes in Maine

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Penquis, a Maine nonprofit that provides assistance to individuals struggling with poverty, has received $3.3 million to develop the BioHome3D concept, designed at the University of Maine (UM), into a neighborhood of affordable residences. Touted as “the first 3D-printed house made entirely with bio-based materials”, BioHome3D was unveiled by UM’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) in November, 2022.

In the latest development signaling American policymakers’ growing interest in additive construction (AC), Maine’s junior US senator, Angus King (I), toured the ASCC last week while presenting Penquis with the grant. Of the $3.3 million, $3 million is Congressionally Directed Spending, with the remaining funds coming from a nonprofit organization, KeyBank Foundation.

The grants will allow UM’s planned “Factory of the Future” to print nine BioHome3D units — made from locally sourced wood fiber feedstock, combined with a wood-fiber PLA composite produced by NatureWorks — over the next four years. Penquis will collaborate on the project with ASCC and MaineHousing (Maine’s state housing authority). According to Jason Bird, the director of housing development for Penquis, there is an estimated shortage of 20,000-25,000 affordable rental housing units in Maine, among the ten least populated US states.

In a press release announcing the grant for the BioHome3D neighborhood, Bird explained, “One of the greatest challenges [to the housing affordability crisis] is the cost and slow pace of housing construction. This project is investigating ways to create more units more quickly and inexpensively, as well as more sustainably.” Senator King commented, “As the state and nation face a serious housing shortage, this funding will build on the success of the BioHome3D project and support Penquis’ 21st century approach to housing construction. I’m proud to have helped secure this well-deserved congressionally directed spending and look forward to seeing how the project continues to develop Maine-made solutions to housing challenges.”

Maine’s other senator, Susan Collins (R), was present at last November’s unveiling of the first BioHome3D, and the state’s governor, Janet Mills (D), was also involved in the state-level budgeting for both projects. Thus, the BioHome3D has bipartisan support, joint federal/state funding, and represents a successful working relationship between academia, multiple levels of government, and the private sector (via NatureWorks).

That is precisely the sort of multifaceted backing indicative of likely success for a burgeoning technology. Indeed, it is exactly the path that all other 3D printing processes have followed on the way to what appears to be their imminent scale-up.

Along those lines, since the economy of housing grants is already set up to facilitate and leverage those types of multidimensional interrelationships, AC could be in as favorable a position to grow over the next several years as any other 3D printing market segment. Its conditions for growth are especially favorable, considering that it addresses two intractable social problems: housing and sustainability. Private companies may be attracting most of the construction printing attention thus far in 2023, but the technology’s greatest long-term asset is its compatibility with the agendas for big government spending.

Images courtesy of Penquis

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