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Desert Sand Behind Concrete Alternative

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

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In light of the billions of tons of sand used by the construction industry every year in the manufacture of concrete, a research team based out of Imperial College London has developed a biodegradable construction material that is as strong as concrete, but with half the carbon footprint.

Post-graduate students Matteo Maccario, Carolyn Tam, Hamza Oza and Saki Maruyami created Finite, a building material, out of desert sand. Previously, such sand could not be used because of how fine it was.

“Finite can form these fine powders into structures that have the same strength as traditional housing bricks and residential concrete,” the startup reports on its website.

Product Development

The name Finite—also the name of the startup itself—reflects a global sand shortage impacting the construction industry, glass makers, computer chip manufacturers and ecosystems that are being pillaged for sand illegally. Dutch designers Atelier NL discussed the shortage during a symposium at Dutch Design Week, detailing that stand “is being excavated at a rate faster than it can renew itself.”

While the binders in Finite remain a secret, the developers remain confident that it outperforms concrete on key sustainability metrics.

"The main binder in concrete is responsible for five percent of global CO2 emissions, which is huge," Maccario said in an interview. The product’s CO2 footprint is estimated to be less than half that of traditional concrete.

The team also noted that Finite is more reusable than traditional concrete, and is nontoxic and can be left to decompose naturally.

"We could use the material to make pavilions, then after three months when the event ends it can be deconstructed safely," said Tam.

The research team also believes that the material is ideal for use in the Middle East, as sand can be taken right from the desert, rather than being imported expensively. In theory, Finite could be used for construction projects, but it would need to pass extensive testing first.

Early experimenting with the material and resin casting also revealed that Finite adopts the color and gradation of the filler, but natural dyes can be added during mixing.

In terms of cost, the team remains confident that Finite will be a viable competitor to concrete once it is manufactured on a larger scale.


Tagged categories: Building materials; concrete; Renewable raw materials; Research and development

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