U. Maine lab unveils blast-resistant wooden building

Feb. 20, 2008
Wooden building was designed to withstand terrorist car bombs, designed to be light, inexpensive

Feb. 19--ORONO, Maine -- Even U.S. Army officials didn't think it was possible, but engineers at the University of Maine have proved them wrong and created a wooden building that can withstand bomb blasts, such as those from terrorist car bombs.

A prototype blast-resistant wooden building has been developed by UM's Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center and is being unveiled at 10 a.m. today at a ceremony on campus.

"We're going to change the nursery rhyme right here, because the wolf can't huff and puff and blow this one down," Larry Parent said while standing outside the prototype set up inside the lab. Parent is the senior research and development program manager at the center.

The cost-efficient, lightweight building is able to withstand large blasts of explosives and severe weather conditions because of a coating applied to the wood that was developed by student and faculty engineers at the university.

The university has patented the technology and the next step is to determine how the wood could be produced practically on a larger scale, preferably at a facility in Maine.

"The goal is not to create a $50 two-by-four," Parent said.

"The goal is to create jobs in Maine," AEWC Director Habib Dagher added.

The composite coating is thin and adds only fractions to the weight of the wood, whether it's a two-by-four or a sheet of plywood, Dagher said.

Each piece of wood used in creating the building is coated and then put together in panels that can be shipped. A 12-foot-by-20-foot building can be set up by 12 people in about 90 minutes. The same size bolt is used to put together the walls, floor and roof of the building, which cuts down on the number of tools needed to erect a structure.

"This whole thing is like a Lego kit," Dagher said.

The building has potential applications for military troop deployments in constructing barracks, homeland security purposes for securing government buildings and hurricane-resistant residential construction.

The blast-resistant building project follows the AEWC development of ballistic tent panels for the U.S. Army that was unveiled last year. The panels, which go inside tents and protect soldiers living in combat situations from nearby blasts, also can be attached to the outside of the blast-resistant buildings to add to the building's safety.

"There's a lot of need throughout the United States and beyond for these types of structures," Dagher said. "It's very, very exciting technology."

Copyright (c) 2008, Bangor Daily News, Maine Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.