The Durra Panel has been used in some of Australia’s largest commercial undertakings and the company behind the ultra-sustainable product says the residential construction industry is rapidly catching on too.
On its website, Ortech Industries labels itself “manufacturer of the world’s most sustainable building material.”
It’s a lofty claim but also not easy to dispute.
Featuring a core made entirely out of reclaimed wheat and rice straw the panels are 100 per cent recyclable and biodegradable, as well as being highly fire resistant and locally produced in the Victorian regional city of Bendigo.
Coming in a range of finishes they are commonly used as wall and ceiling panels for large stadiums and auditoriums due to their sound-absorbing acoustic qualities.
Just some of the projects that have made use of the panels are Sydney’s ICC, Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne Convention Centre, Perth Arena, Auckland’s Life Church and even Village Roadshow’s immense sound studio in Queensland.
Ortech general manager Ainslee Haslemore said that while commercial projects were the “bread and butter” of the company, residential enquiries were on the rise, particularly over the past 12 months.
Last year, sustainability innovator Joost Baker used Durra Panels for the walls, ceiling and floor of his self-sustaining residential prototype, “Greenhouse 5.0” that he built in Federation Square.
Baker’s decision to use the panels hinged on his ethos of only using materials that can be reused or repurposed afterwards, with Durra Panels offering the option of being stripped out and reused in another building or turned into mulch at the end of the project.
In terms of embodied carbon, Durra Panels are claimed by the company to actually sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The straw used to make the panels is an agricultural by-product that would otherwise end up being burnt and just 12.6 MJ of energy per square metre is used throughout the manufacturing process.
While there are other compressed straw panel products on the market, Haslemore said her company’s manufacturing process was unique, using heat and pressure to form a solid core, which draws out a natural binding polymer from the straw.
This means no additional chemical binding agents, glues or resins are used, aside from a water based PVA glue to cover the panel in recycled Kraft liner paper.
A long history
The technology behind the Durra Panel is not new and in fact Haslemore says straw biomass panels were widely used in Australia in the wake of WWII.
“After the war there was a massive shortage of materials so Durra Panel (then called Stramit Board) was used in a lot of homes throughout Australia for many years. And then it kind of just went out of trend,” Haslemore said.
“But now with sustainability being top of mind people are starting to trend back into using it for residential homes.”
Growing popularity for the material over the past year has coincided with another materials shortage in Australia, this time caused by the pandemic.
The company is using this momentum to promote the panels and undertake more marketing than they ever have in the past.
A key goal is ensuring the panels are considered early on the design stage of projects. Due to the panels 50mm thickness they are for the most part not simply interchangeable with traditional plasterboard.
The panels sell for $29.70 for a square metre, but Haslemore said when you consider additional labour and other costs associated with plasterboard they actually work out considerably cheaper.
“We can deliver panels pre-painted or pre-finished, straight to site and then it’s just putting them together and putting them up,” she said.
Ortech already employs 35 people and is looking to hire a further six as the company expands and rolls out a modular building branch of the business called Placeit, which inserts the Durra Panels into a prefabricated steel frame for better efficiency during the construction phase.
“We use steel floor and wall frames and the we line the modular homes with Durra Panel. So we build it all in our factory and then we put it on the back of a truck and deliver it to site. We’re actually already providing that service at the moment but we’re just rebranding it,” Haselmore explained.
Installing solar panels on the Bendigo manufacturing facility was also in the works according to Haselmore to make, at least “one of” the world’s most sustainable building materials, even better for the planet.