Innovation Challenge Spotlight: Construction Panels

Tags: reinforced wood wool cement board (1) , product innovation challenge (5) , haploblocks (1) , ecor (2) , ecococon (1) , construction panels (1)

The Challenge: Create a building product that is safe, healthy, affordable, effective, and designed to be returned safely to nature or industry after use. This blog, posted weekly leading up the announcement of the Innovation Challenge winners in November, spotlights the key issues with conventional building materials and how the ten finalists’ innovations stand out. This week, we focus on our final product category: construction panels.

Modern houses are often constructed with wood frames sheathed in plywood or Oriented Strand Board (OSB).1 Insulation is added separately. Plywood and OSB are both made from wood scraps held together with a binder.2 Unfortunately, the binder often contains and off-gasses formaldehyde, a volatile organic compound that is a suspected carcinogen.3

An alternative to wood framing is to use Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), which are OSB or plywood “sandwiches”—two boards adhered together with insulation. The insulation is usually a foam product.4 This approach combines structure and insulation in one. SIPs are popular because of their strong insulating ability and because they make building construction faster and more straightforward.5

Because SIPs are often made from plywood or OSB, concerns about formaldehyde remain. Additional environmental concerns include toxic flame-retardants6 and blowing agents with ozone-depleting properties or high global warming potential7 included in many foam insulation products.

How the finalists stand out

Four construction panel products are Innovation Challenge finalists:

Ecococon straw panels are structural building components built from straw packed into wood frames. Straw is a rapidly renewable, non-toxic insulating material. Houses constructed with these panels do not require separate insulation.

ECOR Universal Construction Panels are composite panels made from 100% recycled waste cellulosic materials—used cardboard, agricultural wastes, etc. Great attention is paid to water consumption in the manufacturing process, and 99.5% of water is reused.

Haploblocks are building blocks made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and expanded cork insulation. They are made from responsibly-sourced, non-toxic materials and provide both structure and insulation. Haploblocks can be re-used in different applications if a house made from them is deconstructed.

Reinforced wood wool cement boards are made from cement and wood shavings, creating strong, durable panels.



1 US Department of Housing and Urban Development: Office of Policy Development and Research. (2000). Chapter 5: Design of Wood Framing. Residential Structural Design Guide. Retrieved from

2 US Department of Housing and Urban Development: Office of Policy Development and Research.

3 Little, J. C., Kumar, D., Cox, S. S., & Hodgson, A. T. (2002). Barrier Materials to Reduce Contaminant Emissions from Structural Insulated Panels. In M. Anson, J. M. Ko, & E.S.S. Lam (Eds.), Advances in Building Technology (pp 113-120). Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science Ltd.

4 Brown, J. M. (2010). Structural Insulated Panels vs. Conventional Framing. Buildipedia. Retrieved from

5 Wilson, A. (1998). Structural Insulated Panels: An Efficient Way to Build, Environmental Building News 7(5). Retrieved from

6 The Green Science Policy Institute. (2010). The Flame Retardant Dilemma: Should Green Buildings Contain Halogenated Flame Retardants? Retrieved from

7 Wilson, A.