Integrated System Studies

P3 Award: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability
2004-P3-S4 Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet

Title: Eco-Wall Systems: Using Recycled Material in the Design of
Commercial Interior Wall Systems for Buildings

Faculty Advisor: Scott Johnston, johnstsa@muohio.edu
Director, Center for Building Science Research

Co-advisors: John Weigand, Department of Architecture and Interior Design Cathy Almquist, and Chris Peterson, Department of Paper Science and Engineering
Osama Ettouney, Dept.of Manufacturing and Mechanical. Eng.
Glenn Platt, Department of Marketing

Institution: Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, 45056
Student Majors Architecture, Interior Design,
(Miami University) Paper Science and Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering, Marketing, Mass Communications

Project Period: October 2004 – May 2005

Project Amount: $9,995 ($600 Miami Univ. Cost Share)

Project Summary:

This proposal describes an interdisciplinary project involving students from several academic departments at Miami University in the design of commercial wall systems to be
manufactured from recycled materials. The goal of Phase I of the project is to develop and conduct preliminary manufacturing feasibility and marketing research studies on novel new approaches for incorporating recycled paper products as the principle material ingredient in wall components designed for use in interior partition systems for buildings.

The paper industry in the U.S. produces 80-90 million tons of paper each year with a substantial amount of it being deposited in municipal land fills after a short useful product life. The paper industry is the third largest user of energy and has historically been one of the largest polluters of rivers and stream. The paper recycling process uses 55% less water and 60-70% less energy than processing virgin pulp. By developing creative new markets for recycled paper we can have a positive impact on the environment while creating job opportunities in the rapidly growing market for “green” building products.

The project will be a yearlong effort, involving students from each of the disciplines whose expertise will ultimately be needed to bring the proposed building system to market. The interdisciplinary design process we are attempting to model has an obvious parallel in the construction industry. Architects, interior designers and engineers all contribute to the design of a building, usually through standard consulting arrangements. In this project, however, we will involve students from each of the participating disciplines at the very beginning of the design - at the conception of the system - and throughout the process. Potentially the greatest impacts of the grant will come from the new educational paradigm being advanced. Students from across campus will be working together in a dynamic team structure that utilizes their unique knowledge without slotting them into pre-conceived roles. Equally important is the fact that they will be charged, not just with solving an assigned problem, but with deciding at the outset what questions to ask.

A New Interdisciplinary Model for Sustainable Design Education

Growing concern over the many environmental issues confronting society has created a dilemma for teachers trying to construct appropriate models for sustainable design education. As academic disciplines try to understand how sustainability applies to them, it is clear that the greatest challenges and opportunities lie in the interactions that occur between disciplines. Historically, institutions of higher learning have tended to respond to each new challenge society faces by simply adding new courses. If ethics is the problem, then a seminar on "Ethics in insert department name here " would be the answer. The inadequacy of this approach becomes apparent when the desired educational outcomes cannot be achieved simply by acquiring more knowledge; but require rethinking the "medium" of education itself. In this project, students in paper science, manufacturing engineering, architecture, interior design, and marketing will be exposed to a wide range of things they will need to know in their careers about environmentally conscious sustainable design. More importantly the project will explore alternative educational paradigms in which these future professionals can gain valuable experience working across disciplinary boundaries.

The greatest challenges we face as a society relate to our ability to work together to solve the complex multidimensional problems that confront us. Since many - perhaps most - of the truly innovative “designers” of the future will be teams, not individuals, we should be helping tomorrows leaders develop the skills they will need to think creatively and to work collaboratively in search of sustainable solutions to these problems.

Problem Definition

Each year more than 200 million tons of waste is deposited in municipal landfills across the U.S. Paper products are often the largest category of waste representing about 35% by mass. The sheer volume of waste paper and the relative ease, with which it can be reprocessed, has been the driving force behind recycling programs for this material. A key consideration, common to all recycling, has to do with the purity of the waste stream. Paper is manufactured for a number of different applications ranging from corrugated board boxes to specialty papers used in designer packaging to the glossy papers used in periodicals. Though virtually all paper products can be recycled, the quality of the recycled product will depend on the presence of contaminants in the material being re-processed. If the material is homogeneous it can be reprocessed into paper of the same quality as the original material (i.e. “over-issue” newspaper). It is becoming common practice to distinguish between this kind of pure recycling and the more common case where the bulk material being reprocessed includes a mixture of types and qualities of paper. The term “down-cycling” has been used to designate the products of reprocessing – whether in the paper, plastic, or metal industries – that results in material of a lesser quality than the original. Most “recycling” programs would more accurately be described as down-cycling.

The problem with down-cycling is two-fold. Non-homogeneous material will typically have properties that reduce their possible uses. Furthermore, the formation of combined or composite materials into new chemical or mechanical matrices makes it harder to extract the original materials in subsequent re-cycling efforts. Non-homogeneous materials can have many useful applications, but the potential for re-cycling them again becomes more and more limited. This process is less wasteful than dumping reusable material in a landfill, but strictly speaking does not represent a completely sustainable product cycle.

Though it is preferable to have homogeneous materials for reprocessing, the way these materials are currently collected does not encourage homogeneity in the waste stream, particularly for residential waste. Unlike industry, in which large amounts of chemically similar waste materials are generated, the waste from residential recycling programs includes a range of papers, plastics and metals. The majority were used as containers for consumer products and were designed with little regard for the after-market life cycle of the container. Many municipal curbside recycling programs limit the types of plastics they will pick up in an effort to insure a market for what is collected. The labeling system for plastics does work, but often only two or three of the six most common polymers used in consumer plastics are recycled. A similar approach to specifying the paper types from non-industrial paper sources would probably not be feasible. Though there are automated “vision” systems for sorting paper at collection centers, often the process still involves a considerable amount of hand labor, particularly where the volume of paper is low.

Innovation and Technical Merit

In this project we propose to develop a new approach to the re-manufacturing of recycled materials with a focus on the use of recycled paper as the primary material in wall systems designed for the commercial building market. Instead of focusing on intermediate products – loose fill cellulose or cellulose board products - we are proposing to develop end-use products directly from recycled materials. By looking at the design of a product for a specific end-use, we have the opportunity to explore material/product configurations that are unique to the application. Previous wallboards made with wood or paper waste have been designed for a broad market, and for this reason tended to focus on standard sheet sizes and thickness. While we don’t discount the potential of this market, by concentrating on finished wall partition systems, we hope to exploit other characteristics of recycled paper products. We feel there is a natural fit between the material attributes of recycled paper and the design latitude and opportunities afforded in the development of wall partition systems intended exclusively for interior space planning applications.

Recycled paper-based materials have a wide range of attributes that make them ideal for interior wall systems. They can be made into flexible wall forms or rigid building blocks, depending on the interior space planning options that look the most promising. Paper-based products can be made impact resistant, fireproof, waterproof, and aesthetically pleasing by using additives and/or coatings. In addition, the paper-based products can impart soundproof characteristics to wall systems, when that characteristic is desired. The fact that most interior partition systems are non-structural – only self supporting – allows additional freedom in the design of the wall system. Since the components will typically not be exposed to high tensile or bending stresses, non-homogeneous materials are suitable. Systems that incorporate modular storage or furniture elements will be explored. The proposed system will be distinct from functionally similar systems on the market in the reliance on paper-based components and other recycled and recyclable materials.

In the Paper Science and Engineering Department, students have participated in an annual Department of Energy (DOE) competition, in which the students have designed and developed prototypes for paper-based products, ranging from sailboats to sailplanes to snowboards. This year's group of students at Miami University is building a paper-based snowboard, and will compete in the DOE competition in April, 2004. (CA)


The proposed system will contribute to sustainability on two levels. The system will be developed using recycled materials with a focus on the use of recycled paper. Buildings are responsible for one-quarter of the world’s wood use and two fifths of its material energy flows. By substituting recycled for the first generation materials we will be conserving these materials for other uses.

In addition to using recycled materials the system will be designed in a way that will maximize both its functional longevity and the recyclability of the component parts when the system does reach the end of its service life.

The system will be designed so that it can be easily reconfigured to meet changing interior space needs. We will analyze and look for ways to improve on the many modular interior systems currently on the market. Specifically we will research the level and type of flexibility users need to meet both the short (weekly) and long term changes in functional patterns.

The system will be designed so the components can be easily refinished and refurbished. Interior wall systems are often replaced long before they have outlived their functional utility simply to upgrade the “look” of the system.

The system will be designed so that it can be deconstructed into the individual homogeneous materials from which it is made. This will allow the components to be recycled into new materials of the same quality.

Measurable Results – Evaluation Methods

Our approach to evaluating the different stages of work in this project is inherent in the interdisciplinary team structure. Students from each discipline bring knowledge and skill to the project that are unique to their major. As the concepts generated in the charette begin to take form, students from each discipline will have responsibilities for “testing” the system using the methods and protocols appropriate to their field of study.

Paper Science and from Manufacturing Engineering will take the lead in developing plans for producing the components of the system and will work out the engineering details for how they will go together. They will also be responsible for evaluation of the manufacturing feasibility of the designs that evolve.

The architecture and interior design majors will “test” the functional utility and flexibility of the systems in the design of a building the would be a likely candidate for the system. The students will develop plans that incorporate the system in their design and will show ways the system could be re-configured to meet the changing functional need specified in the program.

Marketing majors will conduct focus session research on the system that is designed. They will use drawings produced by the engineering and architecture students to solicit responses in writing and in a discussion format.

Implementation of P3 Concepts

People - Environmental and Economic Impacts

As a product intended for the developed world, the primary benefit to society is in the conservation of material resources. By developing new markets for recycled paper, we will be reducing one of the largest categories of waste discarded in municipal landfills each year. In attempting to find new uses for waste paper, we will be providing an alternative source of materials for building construction. These systems will be less dependent on wood or steel components while reducing the amount of waste put into landfills.

There is also a potential economic benefit from the proposed project related to the development of new markets for recycled materials. The wall system we are proposing to develop under this grant is just one idea for potential new ventures aimed at looking for ways to use waste materials in the creation of new products.


The idea of using re-cycled paper in building products is not new. Cellulose has been used as a loose-fill insulation for many years, and has been used as a material in wall boards as well. The proposed wall system is distinct from the prior art both in design and in the material compositions that will be studied. As we explore the possibility of using recycled paper from mixed waste streams, the homogeneity of the waste paper will be an issue. Rather than trying to isolate high quality recycled paper sources, we are consciously trying to utilize non-homogeneous waste. Since the proposed wall systems will utilize the mass and acoustic properties of waste paper, the quality and homogeneity of the waste products is less an issue.

In the pulp and paper industry, there is currently a greater supply of waste paper than demand for it, producing a glut of contaminated waste paper in the US. There are considerable incentives, environmental and economic, to increase the demand for waste paper by developing new domestic markets. We currently export about half of the waste paper that is generated. As the supply and demand for waste paper start to equalize the price for waste paper and, hence, the incentive for collecting and recovering waste paper will increase.

The Planet

Using recycled paper has the following direct environmental benefits.

Protects Natural resources . . .
The U.S. uses 100 million tons of paper a year & use is increasing
Recycled paper uses 55% less water & helps preserve our forests
Recycling of waste paper creates jobs

Saves Energy . . .
The paper industry is the 3rd largest user of energy in the U.S.
The paper recycling process uses 60-70% less energy than using virgin pulp

Reduces Pollution . . .
The paper industry is one of the largest water users in the world
Recycled paper reduces water pollution by 35%, reduces air pollution by 74%, and
eliminates many toxic pollutants

Source: Treecycle Recycled Paper, Missoula, Montana

The schedule outlined below includes activities that proceed the official starting date for the project. This sequence of tasks is based on the changing needs of the project, but the timeline also corresponds to the academic calendar for the fall and spring semesters. The project planning and sustainable design research that will be undertaken early in the project will allow us to prepare for the design charette that represents the formal starting point of the project. Project related activities scheduled in advance of the official starting date do not involve expenditures that are included in the grant budget.

Project Tasks, Team Member Participation and Time Line
Legend: Arc Architecture
ID Interior Design
PS Paper Science and Engineering
Mfg Manufacturing Engineering
Mkt Marketing
MC Mass Communications
All Involvement by A&ID, Ps, Me, Mkt,

NOTE: Bold letter designations indicate a primary role in the listed project task.
lower case non-bold letter designations indicate an advisory role

4.0 Summer/Fall 2004______________A S O N D
4.1 (faculty) Project Pre-Planning ° - - - °
4.2 (All) Project Meeting 8/24
4.3 (Arc/ID, PS) Sustainable Research ° - - - - °
4.4 (All) Charette 10/1
4.5 (PS, arc/id) Manufacturing Feasibility ° - - - - - - - - - - - - - °
4.6 (MC) Project Documentary ° - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - °

5.0 Spring 2005___________________J F M A M
5.1 (Arc/ID, mfg) System Application ° - - - - - - - - °
5.2 (Mkt) Market Studies ° - - - - - - - °
5.3 (PS, Mfg) Prototype Development ° - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - °
5.4 (All) Demonstration Event (D.C.) TBD
5.5 (MC) Project Documentary ° - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - °

4.1 - Project Pre-Planning

A planning retreat will be conducted for faculty from each of the classes involved in the project. The goal of the summer planning session will be to anticipate the kinds of obstacles that may occur in the coordination of the overall project and to establish a working plan for solving them as they arise. The principle investigator of the project will have the primary responsibility project oversight, for tracking the work of each of the classes and for insuring that communications between classes allows each student team to do their work in a timely fashion. A critical path timeline, outlining the task periods and milestone dates for the work in each class, will be developed during the summer planning session. Past experience with similar interdisciplinary teaching efforts has shown that communication is critical to the success of the project. To help facilitate interdepartmental communications a “Blackboard” website will be set up for the project on the university computer system. The Blackboard site will include the following features for use by members on any of the disciplinary teams.

The project critical path time line
Syllabi for each class
Contact information for team members
Status reports posted by student team leaders
Links to web pages for resources related to project topics

Additional mechanisms for project coordination will be established during the planning retreat. In general the goal will be to develop a plan in which students play key roles in project coordination under the supervision of faculty advisers. Student team leaders will be chosen from each of the participating disciplines. These students will meet weekly with the project PI and with other faculty advisors as the project work warrants.

4.2 - Project Meeting

Students and faculty from each of the classes that will be involved in the year long project will meet to discuss the goals of the project, the specific tasks that will undertaken by each team and the timeline for completing those tasks. Since many of the tasks will be undertaken in parallel with work being conduced by students in other classes or majors, the timeline will be critical in coordinating the project work.

4.3 - Sustainable Research

Each team will develop a list of research topics related to the role they will play in the overall project. The information collected by each team will be posted on the project Blackboard site along with links to additional sources of information. Each team will also prepare a power point presentation on their research in which they will be expected to identify the key underlying issues, the major challenges and potential opportunities they have identified in their research.

4.4 - Charette (Deep Dive)

In early October a consultant from the product design firm IDEO will come to campus to conduct a three-day “charette.” This intensive group design session will include students from each of the disciplines that will be involved over the course of the project. Student participants will come from the Department of Architecture and Interior Design, Paper Science and Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering and Marketing. In addition students from Mass Communications will be filming the session. The videos from the charette will be used in the production of a student documentary on the project.

IDEO is one of the largest and most influential industrial design firms in the world. They are known for their innovative approach to conducting these kinds of team brainstorming sessions, which they call “Deep Dives”. They were featured in a 2002 Nightline program of the same name. The impact IDEO has had on a wide range of industries is represented in the sample of products listed on their website. (http://www.ideo.com)

The charette will start with research presentations by students from Architecture , Interior Design, Paper Science and Manufacturing Engineering that will take place on the evening before the actual design session begins. The charette will be conducted over the course of three consecutive days. At the end of each day, selected team members representing each discipline will meet to assess the progress made and to plan for the following day. Though the direction the design will take can’t be determined in advance, in general the design process will move from idea generation to product concept development to wall/system prototype design. The representative from IDEO will serve as the moderator for the charette during the day and will work with the student team leaders in the evening de-briefing sessions to chart the best plan for the next day’s work.

The goal of the “deep dive” will be to generate a number of wall system options that show promise from an environmental, technical, functional and marketing standpoint. Students from each of the disciplinary teams will research the most promising options in greater detail through projects that will be assigned in related classes in their home departments.
The timing, level of effort and types of research tasks will vary, but the combined efforts of each participating department will be aimed at developing detailed plans and a working prototype for presentation at the Project Demonstration planned for the National Mall in Washington in the spring of 2005.

In the design charette, students will be encouraged to think outside the box to come up with design ideas that may be radically different from the wall systems currently being manufactured and marketed. The follow-up projects in Paper Science, Manufacturing Engineering, in Architecture and Interior Design, and in Marketing will test the technical, functional and market feasibility of these wall systems as described below.

4.5 - Manufacturing Feasibility Studies
Senior Design Project - I (Paper Science PSE 471, Manufacturing Engineering EGR 448)

The Senior-Design Projects, for Paper Science and for Manufacturing Engineering students are a two-course sequence. The sequence allows students to research problems and apply knowledge gained in the four years at Miami in such fields as engineering, science, humanities, and social sciences to solve these problems. The engineering-design method is the criteria used to solve these problems. This method includes, among other aspects: recognizing need, problem definition, synthesis, analysis, evaluation, presentation, and manufacturing.

On the proposed project, students in Paper Science will develop and refine the formulation and manufacturing processes for making the paper-base portions of the new wall systems. Paper science students will also outline the research tasks needed to demonstrate the feasibility of actually manufacturing these components. Manufacturing Engineering students will have the primary responsibility for developing and analyzing the engineering details for the system as a whole. The interrelationship between the parts and the whole will require that both engineering teams establish and maintain a close working relationship throughout the project. They will start with the designs generated during the charette and will work in parallel to develop these concepts into a complete detailed system. The tasks that will be conducted by the two teams of students will include the identification of manufacturing alternatives for the wall systems, assessments of the technical feasibility of those manufacturing processes, and assessment of their environmental and economic impact. Based upon their analyses, the students will select one manufacturing process by which to build the paper-based building blocks or flexible paper-based wall forms for constructing the prototype wall system.

Architecture and Interior Design students will serve as consultants on the senior projects, providing input related to design issues that relate to the utility of the systems, as they would be used in architectural applications. In this way the collaboration that began with the charette will continue through the duration of each of the subsequent research efforts related to the overall project.

4.6 - (and 5.6) Project Documentary

The Department of Mass Communications is considering a parallel assignment to produce a documentary on the project. Throughout the course of the year they would have access to all of the project related activities and events to make video recordings of these activities. In addition they could conduct the background research and interviews needed to produce the documentary as a student project. Though not directly involved in the design work, they would serve as photojournalists for the project.

5.1 - System Application Studies
Energy and Sustainable Design Studio – ARC 402c
Interior Design Studio – ARC 304

Architecture and interior design students will work on incorporating the wall systems developed in the first semester in the design of commercial building plans. These students will investigate the use of the systems in commercial building project chosen to test the utility of the partitions in meeting a wide range of space planning situations and configurations. Project evaluations will include an assessment of the systems on the basis of ease of installation, integration with electrical and communications service, functional utility and flexibility for space reconfiguration.

5.2 - Marketing Studies

Marketing Research – MKT 451

Students in the Marketing Department will use wall panel designs developed by the Senior Paper Science and Manufacturing Engineering majors and space plans developed by Architecture and Interior Design Majors as the basis for marketing studies on the system. Focus session research techniques will be used to assess the potential market for the systems. Participants will include representatives from local interior design firms and systems furniture retailers that specialize in space planning. Office managers and employees working for companies that would be seen as the market for the wall systems will also be interviewed in the focus sessions. A questionnaire will also be used to target written responses from the participant groups to key questions. The actual design of the focus session and the survey instruments that will be used during the sessions will be the responsibility of the marketing students under the guidance of their faculty advisor.

5.3 - Prototype Development and Mock-up
Senior Design Project - II (Paper Science PSE 472, Manufacturing Engineering EGR 449)

In the second semester the students will construct a prototype wall system using their selected manufacturing method. The students will implement any changes or recommendations to the system made by the interdisciplinary team, and construct a final prototype wall system for demonstration at the mall in Washington D.C.

The manufacturing feasibility studies will be both analytical and experimental. Wall material samples will be made in small batches and in larger configurations. Both the departments of Architecture and Paper Science have presses that can be used for this purpose, the largest being 4’ x 12’. The fabrication and assembly of non-paper components will be done in the wood shop facilities in Architecture and in the machine shop in Manufacturing Engineering.

In the past, several local paper manufacturers have supported previous senior design projects. These companies manufacture a variety of products from 100% waste paper. Their continued interest in our projects and financial support is expected. These manufacturers can provide sources of fiber, processing techniques and special chemical additives as well as other expertise. It is expected that both of the companies below would provide expertise and inputs on resources/materials as well as other inputs as needed on an informal consulting basis. They would also be prime candidate for participation in Phase II of the project and have expressed an interest in this possibility.

Franklin Boxboard Corporation, Franklin, OH
Subsidiary of Newark Group, Inc.

Cincinnati Paperboard, Cincinnati, OH
Subsidiary of Caraustar

5.4 – Project Deliverables, Demonstration Event (Washington D.C.)
The project deliverables for Phase I will include the following:

Architectural/Interior designs drawings and models showing the systems, as they would be used in representative commercial space applications.
A research report describing the system design, the details of how it will be manufactured, and an assessment of manufacturing feasibility.
A study outlining the market potential for the system.
A full scale mock up of the prototype that shows the most promise for production.
A Phase II Research Plan outlining the additional design, research and testing needed to bring the wall system to market.

A faculty member and two students from each team will travel to Washington in the spring of 2005 to present the project and to compete for Phase II funding.

Eco Wall Proposal
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