Sand as building material needs innovation

Sand as building material is seemingly a dime a dozen. But it is precisely the famous sand that causes major problems. Not all sand is the same and therefore not every type is suitable for construction. Not yet!

Students at Imperial College in London have set out to explore how it is possible to turn ordinary desert sand into building sand. And that has been a challenge so far. This lies in the details. Normal construction sand has its rough edges. This structure makes it hold well and combine perfectly with cement and water to form concrete. Desert sand, on the other hand, has a round structure and is accordingly too smooth. That’s why desert states like Dubai need imports to be able to build at all, even though there would obviously be enough sand available. This is a problem that not only costs money, but also causes great damage to nature. Parts of the Indian coast and large areas of Indonesian islands have now disappeared from the map because they no longer exist due to the mining of construction sand. With dramatic consequences for people and nature.

Desert sand can significantly shrink the ecological footprint

The student start-up “Finite”, founded by Carolyn Tam, Matteo Maccario, Saki Maruyami and Hamza Oza, now wants to focus on so-called composite material. This is a particularly sustainable alternative to classic concrete. The material used is desert sand, which has been spurned until now. After the addition of organic binders, the sand is said to become as strong as concrete or bricks, making it wonderfully suitable for solving the problem of building materials. This will significantly reduce the ecological footprint. There are still regulatory hurdles to overcome, however, as the novel material still has to go through special testing and regulatory procedures before it is ready for use. It is not yet possible to predict how long this will take.

Sand as a building material in an innovative way

The students are not the only ones who have discovered how valuable desert sand actually is as a building material. Other approaches have long existed, for example in Germany. Here, the company Polycare is working on designing special polymer concrete components that can then be used to build houses. The principle is similar to that of a Lego construction kit. Special polyester resins are added to the desert sand and then pressed into components. Nothing more needs to be fired afterwards, a clear cost and time advantage over classic bricks. Then the building of the house can also already start, which should not represent a large problem according to the advertisement of the enterprise even for laymen. A living space of 37 square meters, for example, would need 650 bricks until completion. These consist at the end to 90 per cent of desert sand. An impressive sum. It should take just 12 hours to complete the mini-residential building. To get more strength between the individual building blocks, the experts recommend placing screws between them.

Desert Sand: Between Buildings and Mafia

As before, only 5 percent of all sand deposits on earth are considered usable for the construction industry. That is damn little. At the same time, natural deposits continue to shrink. The consequences would eventually be construction stops all over the world due to the lack of sand. Yet sand is available everywhere in the desert. In order to get the valuable construction sand, there are a lot of unfair methods. A real mafia has developed to control distribution, mining and prices. This makes the sand expensive and difficult to obtain. To get around the problem, therefore, groups of researchers around the world have set about remodeling desert sand, previously considered unusable, to make it a perfect building material. Using different approaches to success seems to be the credo here. And the researchers are right, because the first substitute building materials are already on the market, while others are still waiting to be ready for the market. So sandy times are dawning, because sand as a building material is absolutely indispensable for the construction industry.

Image copyright: swisshippo


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