Pallets Into Building Blocks

Building Green with Recycled Pallets, Cement, and PSU Lab Expertise

When ShelterWorks, Ltd. CEO Tom Van Denend needed third-party structural testing data for his company's interlocking building block wall system called FasWall, he teamed up with Portland State University civil engineering professor Peter Dusicka and applied for an Oregon BEST Commercialization Grant.

The team was awarded a grant that is funding seismic testing of walls made from the construction blocks, which are 85 percent mineralized wood chips from recycled pallets bonded together with 15 percent Portland cement. The testing is being performed in PSU's infraStructure & Applied Research (iSTAR) Lab), a signature research facility of Oregon BEST that is directed by Dusicka.

The hollow blocks, known as ICFs (Insulated Concrete Forms), are stacked, threaded with rebar, and filled with concrete. Mold proof, breathable, and lightweight, the blocks also contain no polystyrene, so there is no out-gassing, VOCs, or formaldehyde—a feature not found in many Insulated ICFs.

Although the blocks meet or exceed building and energy codes in all 50 states and are being used in residential applications, in order to gain wider acceptance—including in commercial building applications—the wall system needs additional testing for seismic integrity and other factors.

"When the testing is complete, we will have a third-party engineering bulletin that provides structural values for engineers to work with," Van Denend says. "Due to the absence of such test data, engineers currently over-design with FasWall because the block is not given any structural value."

Initial research at the lab has already shown that FasWall blocks have structural value and offer a structural contribution to buildings.

"Now we need our product to be code-certified using cyclic seismic testing, which is what Peter's lab is doing," says Van Denend. "

Peter and I have a similar perspective on green building, and we have developed a very good working relationship."

Dusicka says he's interested in new structural systems, especially in the area of green building applications. "I'm most intrigued by companies using non-conventional and recycled materials," he says. So ShelterWorks is a perfect fit.

If the testing goes according to plan, ShelterWorks will soon be armed with the third-party test results that will allow them to pursue the commercial building market and employ more people at their Philomath, Ore. location, where the company occupies a former lumber mill building.

Then, the FasWall system could more widely replace stick-framed structures because it's designed to last decades longer, is much more energy efficient, and is easier to work, Denend says.

To find out more about FasWall, go to Shelterworks’ website