Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Make It, Test It, Try It: Invention ; A Farmer Invented a Machine That Turns Straw into Building Panels. Why Didn't We Think of That?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Make It, Test It, Try It: Invention ; A Farmer Invented a Machine That Turns Straw into Building Panels. Why Didn't We Think of That?

Article excerpt

It sounds like something that might have been useful to the Three Little Pigs. Fans of the popular children's story will recall how the first little pig built a house out of straw, only to have it toppled by the huffing and puffing of a big, bad wolf.

It's a shame that little pig didn't live next door to David Ward. He has invented a machine that processes straw into a very sturdy building material.

He calls his invention the Strawjet, and it was named Invention of the Year in the Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge.

The Strawjet is "a cross between a hay bailer and a sewing machine," Mr. Ward says. It's attached to the back of a tractor and dragged through a field cutting, scooping up, and bundling together dried grasses.

Ward's machine turns wheat, flax, sunflower, and other plants into a mat that, when covered with mud or cement, can be used to make inexpensive walls and roofs for buildings.

Paint and glue can be applied to make the panels airtight and waterproof, thus preventing rotting and other damage.

Ward got the idea for his invention more than 15 years ago while harvesting crops on his farm. He started looking into nontoxic building materials as an earth-friendly construction alternative to wood.

Straw was the perfect solution. That's because straw has been used for thousands of years as a building material for huts and small dwellings. Straw also is a good insulator, and "it's abundant," says Ward, "particularly in third-world countries."

It's in developing countries such as Afghanistan that Ward would like to see his machine put to use. It could provide a building system for making shelters strong enough to withstand bad weather and earthquakes, he says. And yes, it could even withstand the "huffing and puffing" of a big, bad wolf.

The Strawjet wasn't easy to make. The parts Ward needed weren't available, so he had to manufacture his own. "That's where the 15 years went," he says with a bit of a chuckle. "I can't tell you how many times I thought, 'This is never going to work.' "

One time last summer, for instance, Ward and some of his friends were having difficulty getting the Strawjet to operate. …

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