Oregon company to build paper houses in Haiti and beyond

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Portland-based Pacific Green Innovations is set to build up to 10,000 homes in earthquake-ravaged Haiti — out of paper.

The business was created in October 2009 to help bring a German-made product, known as a SwissCell, to the United States. The SwissCell is a building panel made from 100 percent recycled paper and coated in a tough, recyclable resin that makes it both fire and waterproof.

According to Charles Fox, a partner in Pacific Green Innovations with Ted Meyer, the honeycomb panels are lighter than Styrofoam with the strength of concrete. They fit together with a tongue-and-groove technique and are glued in place. Four or five people can assemble the panels into a house in one day.

Marketed abroad by German company CONSIDO AG, Fox said SwissCells were once used for constructing movie sets until their inventor became interested in home construction on a trip to Africa.

Pacific Green Innovations spied opportunities in green construction for the United States and began lining up private investors and working to get SwissCells approved through federal building regulations here.

The company is forming CONSIDO US to market SwissCells in America. Meanwhile the panels are being tested for toxicity, fire and moisture resistance, strength, bending, seismic and other properties at Portland State University. Further tests for hurricane resistance are planned in Florida.

After the testing began, Fox said, “the earthquake hit in Haiti and we realized there was something we could do with the product immediately that could make a lasting impression.”

Fox has since traveled to Haiti, worked with the Clinton Foundation, numerous charities, and the Haitian government to set about building homes.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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