Making wood products - without trees

Thursday 28 Mar 2024

As she walks across Foray’s lab on the third floor of The Engine, Ashley Beckwith’s eyes brighten. Then, from an incubator, she pulls out petri dishes of wood-like cells that she and her team grew in the lab from black cottonwood plants. They envision turning those cells into wood-based perfumes, cosmetics, oils, and—someday—entire beams and planks that can be created without clearing any forested land.

The Engine is a coworking and shared lab space located in Building 750 on MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where startups and technology entrepreneurs try to develop inventions that can tackle the world’s most challenging problems. Foray Bioscience, a company started by Beckwith, 32, recently joined the fold. Her company aims to disrupt traditional manufacturing of wood products—which involves harvesting lots of trees.

Growing up near Colorado’s expansive and beautiful forests, Beckwith spent a lot of time running in the woods. She witnessed how the construction of new housing developments encroached on forests, which sparked her interest in plant research. She founded Foray in 2022, after completing her PhD in mechanical engineering at MIT.

On a drizzly afternoon in November, inside Foray’s lab space, centrifuges hum and large beakers clink onto the benches, their bright yellow contents bubbling. Dressed in her lab coat, Beckwith explains how growing demand for wood products is driving the loss of natural forests—in the last 25 years, the world has lost about 500,000 square miles. With Foray she hopes to change that, using a technology platform she’s developed that combines cell culture and tissue engineering.

Photo: Ashley Beckwith, founder and CEO of Foray BioscienceForay Bioscience

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Source: technologyreview

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