Wood, gypsum, and cement are all primary billing materials used in residential construction. They are also finite materials as well. As such, there will eventually come a point at which they are no longer be feasible for residential applications. What happens then?
While the timber industry works to plant as many trees as they harvest, another industry is looking at ways to recycle waste in a way they hope will one day mitigate the need for timber. One such project utilizes a synthetic rubber that can be recycled numerous times for a variety of applications.
New Composite Materials
Scientists in Australia have come up with a synthetic rubber polymer made from canola oil and sulfur. The polymer can be heated and compressed to increase strength and determinate shape. Better yet, it can be combined with a variety of fibers to create composites very similar to carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) and glass fiber reinforced plastics (GFRPs).
Researchers say it is possible to combine their rubber polymer with all sorts of waste materials ranging from PVC to sand. In theory, they should be able to combine it with recycled carbon fiber waste to create strong and rigid bricks for residential construction.
As impressive as all that sounds, that is not even the half of it. The same rubber polymer can be used to fabricate a variety of soft materials as well. Researchers have created tubing, rubber coatings, insulating materials, and more.
A Recyclable Powder
What makes this rubber polymer so revolutionary is that it starts as a powder. In this state, it can be manipulated in any number of ways to create any number of different parts. Recycling it is a simple matter of grinding it down until it is back in powder form. It can then be used again.
Recycling a material like carbon fiber is not as simple, explains Salt Lake City’s Rock West Composites. A carbon fiber reinforced plastic is a laminated product consisting of cured epoxy resin and structural, reinforcing fibers embedded within it.
The fiber and polymer can be separated through high heat and pressure but doing so is not very economical. Carbon fiber waste can also be shredded or chopped, then recombined through a pressing process that creates sheets of material similar to press board. This is a more economical way to recycle carbon fiber, but you lose quite a bit of strength in the process.
Entire Homes Made of Waste
Having a rubber polymer that can be continually recycled changes the thinking in terms of residential construction composites. The rubber compound is to a finished product what the epoxy resin is to a CFRP: the primary material reinforced by some sort of fiber within.
This is important when you consider the number of waste materials that could be used for reinforcement. Natural fibers are one possibility. But so are fibers created from recycled plastic. Shredded carbon fiber waste can also be a usable reinforcing material.
The technology is such that it could eventually lead to entire houses made of waste materials. Imagine a house built brick-by-brick with tough, weather-impervious bricks made from a rubber polymer and waste materials that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. That is the goal.
Scientists still have quite a way to go before their technology is ready for prime time. But what they are working on shows plenty of promise. Humanity has been hoping to reclaim certain kinds of waste and use it as a building material for residential construction for quite some time. Now it looks like we might be closer than ever.