Cemented Plastic Makes Concrete Stronger

The existence of eco-friendly, weather-resistant structures such as Thailand’s bamboo building are evidence that designers are saving the planet. To drive a point, MIT students are embedding irradiated water bottles into cement to make concrete more robust and sustainable.

The research revealed that exposing the plastic to gamma radiation actually made it stronger. The irradiated plastic was then ground into a powder and mixed with cement. The subsequent concrete was up to 20 percent stronger than concrete made without the irradiated plastic.

Engineers found the added plastic (only 1.5% of the concoction) made concrete significantly denser. If you’re skeptical about incorporating the mix into future room renovations, don’t worry — it isn’t radioactive. Furthermore, using plastic will potentially relieve a few dozen landfills.

“Concrete produces about 4.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” says [MIT professor Michael] Short. “Take out 1.5 percent of that, and you’re already talking about 0.0675 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gases in one fell swoop.”

Environmentalists might campaign for a plastic-free society — but it isn’t the easiest option. Perhaps, now, it’s all about redirecting your waste to where it will be most useful.

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Netherlands Home To 3D-Printed Cycling Bridge

Inner Mongolia’s solar powered Dragonfly bridge may be the walkway of the future — but not soon enough. Filling the gaps is Eindhoven University of Technology, which 3D-printed the world’s first cycling bridge.

“One of the advantages of printing a bridge is that much less concrete is needed than in the conventional technique in which a mould is filled,” it said on [the university] website. “A printer deposits the concrete only where it is needed.”

The bridge is nothing grand in scale, but can reportedly withstand the weight of 40 trucks. While I don’t suppose you can cram that many vehicles onto a 26-foot bridge, the point is clear. The university’s partner company BAM Infra is hopeful that the bridge will inspire more efficient technology.

[BAM is] “searching for a newer, smarter approach to addressing infrastructure issues and making a significant contribution to improving the mobility and sustainability of our society.”

In the 3D-printing world, the Netherlands remains on top of cutting-edge resources.

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Concrete Can Withstand High Magnitude Earthquakes

If a bamboo building can withstand several sorts of natural disasters, surely, any other structure can. Unfortunately, it isn’t really the case — until, maybe, now. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are testing a type of concrete that can resist high magnitude earthquakes.

Researchers at . . . UBC have created a fiber-reinforced concrete called eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC), that can withstand high seismic activity. The engineered material combines “cement with polymer-based fibers, fly ash and other industrial additives,” according to a university press release.

Simply adding a 10-millimeter layer of the material to existing walls is enough to make it practically impenetrable. But the strength to withstand high magnitude earthquakes — up to a magnitude 9.0! — isn’t the only fantastic feature of the material. It is also linked to sustainability efforts. Considering that normal concrete contributes to nearly 7% of carbon emissions, using mostly fly ash or a coal combustion byproduct definitely earns EDCC points. Hopefully, it will lessen the damages caused by the cement industry to the environment.

“This UBC-developed technology has far-reaching impact and could save the lives of not only British Columbians, but citizens throughout the world,” said Melanie Mark, the minister of advanced education, skills and training in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. “The earthquake-resistant concrete is a great example of how applied research at our public universities is developing the next generation of agents of change.”

In the near future, EDCC will also be used for strengthening home structures and blast-resistant buildings. A proud salute to public universities making a difference!

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China’s Solar Highway Recharges Electric Vehicles

Solar energy is taking over the power grid. It’s in building materials and even wallpaper, allowing homes to become more efficient and eco-friendly. For Chinese development group Qilu, the power of solar stretches beyond the comfort of a household. It recently tested its first solar road — and saw it through to success!

The solar road is made up of an insulating layer on the bottom, photovoltaic panels in the middle, and transparent concrete on top.

The road itself will power street lights, signs, CCTV cameras, toll gates, and even recharge e-vehicles. Extra produced energy (which it apparently is capable of generating) will go to the state grid. The project cost Qilu well over 50 million euros, but considering its expertise in solar, China will likely bounce back.

Xu did not reveal the cost of the Jinan solar road but said it was half of similar projects in other countries. “With the development of solar power in China, the cost can be further reduced,” he said.

Looks like EV enthusiasts won’t have to worry about running on empty! (Except, maybe, iPhone carriers…)

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Concrete Structure Can Harness Solar Energy

Running on solar may seem simple enough, but it isn’t always the most affordable option. Some institutions, such as the famed solar high school in Copenhagen, can afford to maintain thousands of panels. But for those on a budget, alternatives such as solar blocks may be a more suitable option. Either way, engineers continue to develop more efficient methods for going solar. Designed in Zurich, this concrete roof prototype can generate solar power.

The self-supporting, doubly curved shell roof has multiple layers: the heating and cooling coils and the insulation are installed over the inner concrete layer. A second, exterior layer of the concrete sandwich structure encloses the roof, onto which builders install thin-film photovoltaic cells.

The fully-developed prototype will create more energy than it consumes. The structure’s components are reusable and the concrete itself is highly robust. The team considers its success a milestone — and rightfully so.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting, thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction.”

There isn’t yet word on recreating the roof commercially, but after four years of research, the wait shouldn’t be much longer.

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Student Develops Sustainable Washing Machine

Amidst the abundance of millennial-bashing headlines are young adults proving their talent to older generations. Earlier this year, an astronomy student managed to photograph Jupiter using a Game Boy. A few days later, an eighth-grader created a device that produces clean energy from traffic. Just today, I got wind of Dylan Knight, a student who is revolutionizing the world’s laundry habits. By simply changing a single part of the device, he created a sustainable washing machine that could drastically cut carbon emissions.

The simple change… would replace the [machine’s] concrete with an empty plastic container, which could then be filled with water to act as a counterweight once the washing machine has been placed.

The invention could save 45,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide on the 3.5m washing machines sold in the UK each year.

That’s a weight off anyone’s shoulders — and literally! The plastic container fulfills its concrete counterpart’s exact function, which is to keep the machine from vibrating too hard.

“Concrete is actually quite bad for the environment due to the CO2 released when it’s produced. The use of concrete is also the reason why washing machines are normally very heavy to move.”

The invention proves that it doesn’t take a genius to create environmentally friendly alternatives to damaging products. It may be time we give our “reckless” youth a bit more credit.

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