Vacuum Wood Tech: pioneering sustainable construction with smart and adaptive modules

  • 2024-07-01

In the vibrant city of Helsinki, a visionary company called Vacuum Wood Tech is making significant strides towards transforming the construction industry. This Aalto University spin-off aims to dramatically reduce the industry's carbon footprint by blending vacuum technologies into prefabricated wood construction modules. Known also as Vacuum Insulation Solutions Ltd, the company represents the forefront of green technology, emphasising sustainability in building practices. Vacuum Wood Tech has revolutionised traditional construction methods by developing onsite vacuum dryable wood construction modules with IoT remote surveillance of modules’ wellbeing. Their products are the first ones in the whole World exploiting a physical phenomenon called Vacuum Drying as an adaptive moisture control system of wooden modules. This extraordinary philosophy in the field of building physics leads us to moisture-resistant wood modules capable of withstanding extreme climatic conditions or moist indoor environments that would typically endanger the wellbeing of wood structures. The company sees that the wellbeing data collected over the whole lifetime of a construction module solves the biggest challenge in modular construction: The direct reusability. If dryness of the modules can be served and undisputed data can be delivered to a potential customer planning to buy some used construction modules, this will seal the deal. Today people are extremely concerned about utilising second-hand construction modules due to the uncertainty of the modules’ history, especially in wood construction.

This resilience is made possible not only by vacuum drying maintenance function but also by totally encapsulated module coating, which prevents moisture from finding its way inside the modules in the first place. When this eventually happens, over years or even decades, the coating can be easily fixed if needed and wooden frames can be boiled in normal temperatures by decreasing the modules’ internal pressure state heavily. This way all of the unwanted extra moisture can be removed from the wooden module frames via gaseous form. After the vacuum drying maintenance, the modules are again as dry as they were while leaving the factory. In this way the lifetime of modules can be extended one step at the time. It is as if time stops inside the module. During the history of mankind, these kinds of encapsulated wood structures in buildings have been widely avoided because of the uncontrollable moisture accumulation risks. While the Vacuum Wood Tech’s team was still operating under Aalto University’s umbrella as a research to business project, a pilot facility was erected in the middle of Natural Resources Institute Finland’s plant cultivation research centre for serving as an actual indoor farming science unit. The pilot modules have been facing one of the harshest environments of all for wood construction -the greenhouse conditions. After over three years of piloting, all of the seven pilot modules are still as dry as they left the assembly line. The vacuum drying maintenance has been proved in the real environment and all of the seven pilot modules have reached the maintenance interval over two years. Some of the pilot modules seem to reach even a ten-year milestone. This means that the modules are actually immune to the environmental humidity. This combination of features actually solves the largest technical obstacles of wood construction in climates like Southeast Asia wherein the regular wood construction known in the Baltics and Nordics isn’t even an option due to the extremely humid and warm climate together with heavy rains.

For people living in locations suffering the insects problem Vacuum Wood Tech’s modules represent again a perfect fit. In case the module coating gets damaged and some insects, such as cockroaches or even bed bugs find their way inside the module. The unwanted guests can be exterminated simply by vacuum drying the modules once again.

Currently the company is developing a seamless and transparent coating for pushing the level of vacuum technology even further: A dynamic insulation feature is under research and development. This means that the insulation level of a building envelope could be boosted up to fourfold for the hot day time and the insulation could be “turned off” for the cooler night time. The module functions then like a thermos bottle when underpressured. This way we could cool down the building envelope in a much more energy efficient way than the traditional buildings with static insulation. During the winter times in cold climates, the insulation level could be boosted heavily for the incoming cold period leading to an opportunity to reach enormous savings both environmentally and financially in heating of the building. The adaptiveness of the insulation layer also opens up a hidden path to increase the sustainability of the buildings even more as artificial intelligence can be presented in the future. The AI will be feeded with weather forecasts and the task will be to adjust the insulation level of the whole building envelope in real time for optimising the energy consumption of the building.

Venturing beyond the Finnish borders, Vacuum Wood Tech has been making significant strides also in the Baltic region. Their participation in the Riika TechChill 2024 event stands as a testament to their active engagement in expanding their network across the Baltics. This event served as a strategic platform for the company to forge new partnerships and deepen existing ones, particularly in the realms of construction, manufacturing, and notably, the moist vertical farming and agricultural structures. Looking further afield, Vacuum Wood Tech's innovations have captured international attention, evidenced by their third-place finish at the Re-building Ukraine hackathon. This accolade highlighted the global applicability of their technology, particularly in areas needing sustainable reconstruction solutions post-crisis.

Through their innovative practices, Vacuum Wood Tech is enabling construction companies to meet the growing regulatory demands for sustainable development. They seek partners and investors who share their goals and values, emphasising a collective approach to a more sustainable future in construction. The module is actually designed in a way the assembly work can be done by any regular wood module factory and no special tools are needed. The company's pioneering work illustrates the vast potential of integrating advanced technology with traditional materials to achieve unprecedented sustainability milestones in construction.