Aside from tragic loss of life and incomprehensible destruction, events like last week’s devastating earthquake in Haiti create a myriad of problems in their wake, not least of which is homelessness. With over 30 million shipping containers the world over currently lying dormant, a team of researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina are working to help solve the issue of accommodation in disaster affected areas by developing a method to convert the unused containers into sustainable emergency housing.

The team at Clemson University, operating under the SEED Project banner, were originally inspired by the hurricanes in recent years in the Caribbean and US. As shipping containers are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions and exceed structural code all over the world, their “unibody” construction means they can be equally useful in seismic zones. Currently Caribbean countries have a large surplus of unused shipping containers due to imports far outweighing exports.

While they have been used in past as boutique relocatable homes and even portable restaurants, the SEED Project aims to use shipping containers to provide safe emergency housing for people displaced by natural disaster as quickly as possible. Historically, in many cases people affected by disaster do not return to their land for years, sometimes never. The SEED Project seeks to see people re-housed in a modified on-site container in as little as three weeks. The idea is to use local skills, labor and materials, with the container eventually becoming a sustainable permanent living space.

Making use of discarded shipping containers in this manner also addresses the global issue of recycling, and the team is focusing on another industrial surplus as well – 55 gallon steel drums. It is looking to use these to create a “starter garden” on top of a converted shipping container to grow food crops and the like should the ground below be contaminated. Water can then be filtered through the drums for use in a water pod that includes shower, sink and composting toilet.

The SEED Project team is working with industry partners and currently has a prototype under construction on the Clemson University campus, with plans to build another in the Caribbean within the next twelve months.