Thursday, August 18, 2022

Researchers developing construction materials from waste products

The need to develop sustainable building materials is increasingly important, with cement, iron, and steel production accounting for more than 15% of global CO2 emissions each year. Also, firing bricks and making mortar and cement is expensive. Now the engineers at Flinders University are working on more sustainable alternatives, focusing on building materials made from waste products.

Researchers have used low-cost feedstocks to make lightweight, durable polymer building blocks that can be bonded together with an adhesive-free chemical reaction. Their latest study tested the strength of these materials and explored ways they can be reinforced in construction.

In the new study, the researchers tested the new type of brick they could make from waste cooking oil mixed with sulfur and dicyclopentadiene (DCPD). Both sulfur and DCPD are byproducts of petroleum refining.

“The bricks bond together without mortar upon application of a trace amount of amine catalyst,” says project leader Professor Chalker. “All the starting materials are plentiful and can be classified as industrial waste. This research is part of a larger effort to move towards a sustainable built environment.”

Figure showing how polymer bricks can be joined together as a building material (left). Testing of the mechanical strength of the material (right).
Figure showing how polymer bricks can be joined together as a building material (left). Testing of the mechanical strength of the material (right). Credit: Flinders University

The latest study expanded the research to test the new bricks’ mechanical properties and look at ways to reinforce them in construction, including carbon fiber fillers. In addition to repurposing waste material into value-added construction materials, the polymer bricks’ sulfur-sulfur bond means they can be bound together without mortar like the traditional building method.

“The bonding in this novel catalytic process is very strong, producing a sustainable construction material with its own mortar, which will potentially streamline construction,” said Dr. Maximilian Mann, Chalker Lab research associate.

The research team is collaborating with Clean Earth Technologies for further development, scale-up, and possible commercialization.

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