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The USA’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have prototyped a new type of brick made from recycled industrial waste that promises to mediate some of the negative environmental impacts associated with clay-fire brick production.
For centuries, the clay fired brick has been the most popular building material in India due to its local availability and low cost, however the environmental impacts of its production continues to raise concerns.
These concerns prompted a research team from the Tata Center for Technology and Design at MIT to step in and investigate new ways to mass produce bricks at a low cost and with less detriment to the environment.
After two years developing and fine tuning their prototype, the MIT team is now trialling mass production of the ‘Eco-BLAC’, an alternative to traditional bricks comprising 70 per cent recycled industrial waste and produced using little energy and for a low cost.
The MIT team says that the product will address two major environmental concerns for India; its abundance of boiler ash landfill and its heavy reliance on dirty high-temperature fired brick production.
The Eco-BLAC bricks are made using boiler ash, a common waste product of Indian paper mill factories, rather than topsoil. The boiler ash is combined with an alkaline activator solution which dissolves the ash and creates a geo-polymer gel that gives the bricks strength and durability.
Because the bricks are made with a chemical reaction and gain strength at ambient temperature, they don’t require the massive consumption of coal used for traditional clay-fired brick production.
The production process also doesn’t degrade agricultural land of topsoil and produces absolutely no carbon emissions – unlike traditional kiln technology.
But how do they perform?
MIT says the bricks have been subjected to a battery of tests at their testing facility at the Indian city of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, including compression, durability, and water absorption, with promising results.
“In terms of strength I think we’re better” than the red clay bricks, says Tata Fellow Michael Laracy
The team are currently subjecting the bricks to long-term durability tests, and plan to return to Muzaffarnagar in March to produce more full-size samples. They will also work with a team from MIT Sloan India Lab to fine-tune their business model, with a view toward commercialization of the eco-BLAC brick in the near future.