Construction materials

Researchers develop building materials from waste

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

The researchers used low-cost raw materials to make lightweight, durable polymer building blocks that can be glued together through a chemical reaction without an adhesive. Their latest study tested the strength of these materials and explored ways to strengthen them in construction.

In the new study, the researchers tested the new type of brick they could make from used cooking oil mixed with sulfur and dicyclopentadiene (DCPD). Sulfur and DCPD are both by-products of petroleum refining.

“Bricks bond without mortar when applying a trace of amine catalyst,” says Professor Chalker, project leader. “All raw materials are abundant 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 assembled as a building material (left). Material strength test (right). Credit: Flinders University

The latest study expanded research to test the mechanical properties of new bricks and examine ways to strengthen them in construction, including carbon fiber fillers. As well as reusing waste materials into value-added building materials, the sulfur-sulfur bond of the polymer bricks means they can be bonded together without mortar like the traditional building method.

“The bonding in this new catalytic process is very strong, producing a durable building 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 eventual commercialization.

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