A team of scientists have developed a new biodegradable construction material that uses desert sand as an alternative to the extensively mined concrete binder.
Sand is an important component in concrete, as well as in glass-making and computer chip manufacture. It may not seem like it, but sand is actually in short supply. The coarse sand needed for concrete manufacture is being excavated at a rate faster than it can renew itself. In fact, sand-mining is a multi-billion dollar industry. Illegal sand mining is a serious problem in countries such as India. Criminal gangs illegally strip coarse sand from riverbeds and beaches, damaging delicate ecosystems. In addition, the energy costs in transporting sand give concrete a very high carbon footprint. Now, a group of post-graduate students at London’s Imperial College are hoping to change this with a new material that is as strong as concrete but which is manufactured using a finer-grain of sand than that used in concrete.
Imperial students Carolyn Tam, Matteo Maccario, Hamza Oza and Saki Maruyami developed the new material, called Finite. This uses a finer grain of ‘desert’ sand than the course beach and riverbed sand normally used in concrete manufacture. The Finite team hope that their material will not only reduce environmentally damaging sand mining, but will also decrease the carbon footprint of construction. The hope is for Finite to have a positive effect in the Middle East, where the raw materials can be scooped up from nearby deserts.
The formula is a secret, but the inventors claim it is non-toxic and will decompose naturally. It is also easy to recycle and can be remoulded for use in another project. The new material can also be used in resin casting. This can create objects such as bowls and vases, and can be dyed with natural dyes. Finite joins other recent construction innovations such as recyclable aerogel bricks that improve insulation and a new method for creating ultra-thin, curved concrete. How might the use of Finite change the construction industry?