Houses of Straw

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The Strawjet, which turns straw into building material, is the winner of the Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge

As David Ward knows, it ain't easy being green. But he's hoping that will change now that his invention, one of some 4,300 submissions in a contest run by TIME, the History Channel and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, was named the 2006 Modern Marvel of the Year. Ward's Strawjet takes a renewable and universally available resource — straw — and turns it into low-cost building material that will provide farmers with extra income and eliminate the need for deforestation. Another eco-friendly detail: instead of using plastic resin, the tractor-size farming implement binds straw together using paper pulp, clay and cement.

Ward, an Oregon native who started thinking about green building materials after getting sick from chemicals he was exposed to as a construction supervisor, set out to create a material cheap enough to be used in the world's poorest regions but also strong enough to withstand natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Afghanistan. The Strawjet — which was selected by a panel of experts, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, for its potential global impact — will be part of a traveling exhibit along with the contest's 24 other finalists, which will travel from New York City's Grand Central Terminal to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, where it will be on display through September 2006.