The global building materials market is anticipated to reach almost $890 billon annually through 2016, according to MarketLine. Manufacturing segments in the industry include cement, brick, concrete, sand, aggregates, and gravel, and is supplied by steel, glass, wood, plastics, and cement. Global cleantech construction materials may reach $405 billion by 2015, with the EU being the leading market, followed by the US. Cleantech building materials in the US are estimated to be worth more than $60 billion annually at present. Green building is especially prevalent in the residential market, and sees demand for products including cork, bamboo, woven flooring, concrete using recycled components, energy-efficient lighting, and water-efficient plumbing.
We look in this post at innovations in cleantech building materials.
Algae in your house
Alginate is a polysaccharide (complex molecules composed of simpler sugars) found in the cell walls of brown algae (commonly known as seaweed or brown kelp) that can absorb 200–300 times its weight in water. It is used in various products, including weight loss aids, paper and textile manufacture, a gelling agent, thickening for drinks, ice cream, and cosmetics, and fabric waterproofing and fireproofing. It is also used in pharmaceutical products and impression-making in dentistry, prosthetics, and lifecasting. And as a component in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids (e.g., US 8,105,985).
This algae-derived product is also found in building materials. Daniel R. DeBrouse (Meeker, OK) invented “Alginate-based building materials;” he was awarded US 8,246,733 in August 2012; the patent was assigned to Tamarisk Technologies, L.L.C., also in Meeker. The invention, according to the abstract,
“describes various building materials used in the building and construction industry, and to buildings or objects constructed therefrom, and to methods of making these building materials. The building materials comprise a polymeric material, such as sodium alginate and/or calcium alginate which confers significant flame-, fire- and heat-resistance or imperviousness to the materials. Other substances can be added to the materials to improve cross-linking and/or to produce resistance to fungal degradation. The building materials which can be produced, processed, or treated using the alginate polymers of the invention include, but are not limited to, wood products; masonry products; wall, roofing, flooring and siding products; and paint products. Further, sodium alginate in the form of a gel may be used as a firebreak to effectively stop the advance of grass fires, wildfires, and forest fires.”
Note the reference to “cross-linking” – the chemical bonding of polymer chains that is used in the tire industry, for compounds in medical devices, and hydraulic fracturing fluid, to name a few.
The inventor envisions that specific building materials that can benefit from alginate treatment include
“wood products including, but not limited to, pressed boards containing saw dust, wood dust, stranded wood and/or wood chips, plywoods constructed from such pressed boards, lumber, boards, beams, trusses, studs, and other forms of cut or sawn woods, laminates, and other cellulosic materials (e.g., bamboo, cork, and other woody materials); masonry products including, but not limited to, concrete, cement, grout and mortar, concrete blocks of all types, masonry pigments, concrete for slabs, walls, footings, and roadways, concrete precasts of all types, architectural precast sills, copings, features, medallions and caps, architectural cast stones and simulated stone, plasters of all kinds, stuccos of all kinds, bricks of all types, concrete or clay roof units, all masonry or concrete based products; wall and roofing materials including, but not limited to, asphalt shingles, wood shingles, composite shingles, and synthetic shingles, gypsum and all gypsum based products, drywall, siding matrixes of all kinds, fiberglass and fiberglass based products; flooring materials including, but not limited to, vinyls, carpets, wood, wood laminates, stone, synthetic stone tiles, concrete, and concrete or cement-based flooring materials; electrical materials including, but not limited to, electrical devices, wire coatings and switches; insulating materials such as, but not limited to, fiberglass batting of all types; countertop materials including, but not limited to, formicas, composites, stone, synthetic stone, crushed stone or minerals, or concrete; plumbing materials including, but not limited to, flex pipe and pipe insulators; paints materials including, but not limited to, paints, paint pigments, and paint compounds; and glass, plastics, and rubber materials. Further, sodium alginate in the form of a gel may be used as a firebreak to effectively stop the advance of grass fires, wildfires, and forest fires.”
That seems to cover almost all of the building materials industry.
Grass, sheep’s wool and chicken feathers in your house
Recycled or other natural products are being incorporated into invented building materials, as described in US 8,075,990, “Building material as well as a method for manufacturing the same and use of the building material,” issued to Raoul Guilielmus Boudewijn Marie Prick (Maastricht, Netherlands) in December 2011 and was assigned to Modina B.V. (Netherlands). The patent is for
“a moulded product of a base material, which moulded product is provided with at least one cavity, which cavity is filled with a filler in the form of loose particles, which loose particles have been bonded together by means of a binding agent, wherein the binding agent is present on the loose filler particles in the form of droplets. The present invention furthermore relates to a method for manufacturing such a building material. In addition to that the present invention relates to a use of the present building material.”
The filler material is “mineral wool, cellulose fibres, dried grass, sheep’s wool, chicken feathers, expanded polystyrene granulate, and expanded glass granulate,” or mixtures. The binding agent is silicate – sand and thousands of other minerals are silicates, which comprise most of the Earth’s crust.
Landfill leachate and fly ash in your house
How does concrete or masonry block made from power plant fly ash and landfill leachate strike you for use in your home? Bruce W. Ramme (Okauchee, WI) and Timothy C. Muehlfeld (Wauwatosa, WI), and Wisconsin Electric Power Company (Milwaukee, WI), hope it strikes consumers and manufacturers well enough to be a commercially viable product. They describe their invention in US 8,236,098, “Settable building material composition including landfill leachate,” which issued in August 2012. It is
“A composition capable of setting to produce a building material is disclosed. The composition can include from 1% to 30% by weight of an activator, from 1% to 55% by weight of a pozzolan, such as fly ash; from 40% to 90% by weight of an aggregate; and liquid landfill leachate in a sufficient amount such that the composition sets to a building material having a compressive strength of at least 2 MPa, wherein all weight percentages are percent by weight of the total composition. The liquid landfill leachate replaces all or part of the tap water in a conventional composition for forming a building material. The liquid landfill leachate can be recovered after a liquid (typically water) percolates through a landfill and contacts at least one landfilled coal combustion product selected from fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization material. The building material can be a concrete, or a masonry unit.”
Recycled tires in your house
Richard J. Woods (LaPuente, CA) found a use for the three billion tires in US dumps and landfills that were estimated to exist in the mid–1990s. He invented “Building materials from recycled tires,” documented in US 5,800,754 which issued in September 1998. He provides
“A process for forming a building unit from ground motor vehicle tires. The process includes the steps of grinding a number of tires to create a ground tire mixture which includes ground rubber metal strands and fiber pieces. Between 15% and 20% of adhesive comprising asphalt is added to the mixture. The asphalt containing mixture is then placed into a heated mold and subjected to heat and pressure to form a building unit such as a block. The metal may be removed after the grinding step by passing the ground material under a magnet. The thinnest block is strong enough to form a structure and yet pliable enough to permit an insertion or nails or screws.”
Car paint in your house
In the early 1990s “increasing environmental concerns and federal regulations … sought to limit the type and quantity of waste generated by the automotive paint industry. In response to this problem, manufacturers have developed various methods for creating useful byproducts from automotive paint sludge,” according to inventor Daniel M. St. Louis (West Bloomfield, MI). To address this problem, he developed a “process for manufacturing a admixture for concrete, mortar or asphalt out of paint sludge … The preferred embodiment utilizes the chemical drying of paint sludge through the addition of lime. The resulting powder contains a mixture of slaked lime and paint solids and can be used in the formation of concrete, mortar or asphalt.” His work is found in US 5,573,587.
Sawdust in your great-great-grandparents house
Lest we think that cleantech building materials using recycled products are a relatively recent innovation because we are all concerned now with saving the planet and creating a sustainable future, we are reminded of John B. Love (Philadelphia, PA) and his November 1881 patent for “Construction of buildings,” found in US 249,645. Love’s invention related “to the floors and ceilings of buildings,” his object being to “arrange two sets of beams, one set for supporting the floor and the other for carrying the ceiling, and to so isolate the said beams from each other that shocks and jars imparted to the floor will not be imparted to the ceiling below, and so that the structure may, in a great measure, prevent the communication of noises from one room to another.” “Another advantage of my invention is the facility which the space between the two structures affords for ventilating purposes, the external air, for instance, being admitted at the point x [in his drawing], and being free to circulate between the structures, may be permitted to escape through registers in the flooring boards, or the opening or openings x may afford an avenue of escape for the foul air which may be admitted to the space between the structures from the floor below.”
He continued: “As a still further bar to the communication of noises form one room to another, saw-dust or spent tan [i.e., tree bark that had been used for leather tanning. For another cleantech application of tan, see here] may be deposited in the space between the two structures …”
Here we have an inventor from more than 132 years ago (he filed his application in February 1881) that was solving indoor air pollution and noise pollution problems by using recycled materials. A clean, green, sustainable building approach no less modern than those being applied today. Present-day inventors continue to recognize the value of his invention – it was cited as recently as August 2009 by US 7,574,837, “Insulated stud panel and method of making such.”
Old problems, new materials
The development of lower-cost, resource efficient approaches to solving material shortages, problems, and uses in the building trades is a long-standing and continuing process. As new materials, markets, and manufacturing solutions come to fruition, new problems arise. Innovators have risen to the challenge in the past, and continue to do so.