Scottish Startup Turning Waste into Bricks

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Robison Wells

We’ve seen many different attempts at reinventing the brick lately, as the production process of the material—and the energy consumption of brick structures—isn’t good for the environment. The Brick Development Association (BDA) says in their 2019 Sustainability Report that brick manufacturing is “energy intensive” and “involves firing clay bricks to over 1000 degrees C.” Another material that can be used to make bricks is concrete, made from water, sand or gravel aggregate, and cement. Over 4 billion metric tons of cement are produced annually which accounts for roughly 8% of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. So, while bricks are an essential commodity for construction, new solutions to produce them is always being sought.

Research being carried out by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, is an unfired brick produced from 90% construction and demolition waste. It is currently made at Hamilton Waste and Recycling, a waste management firm on the outskirts of Edinburgh. According to the university, the brick (known as the K-Briq) produces a tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions of a traditional fired brick and also uses less than a tenth of the energy in its production.

“We use the inert waste – that means it’s not going to change over time,” Gabriela Medero, a professor at Heriot-Watt’s School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society said in an interview with CNBC.

Medero said the K-Briq could be a combination of materials such as gravel, plaster board, and recycled bricks. This summer the K-Briq is set to be used at the Serpentine Pavilion Installation in London, a prestigious architecture commission which showcases innovative design. Medero says that they will be able to scale up their production to produce 3 million bricks per year.

On the subject of finding more sustainable solutions and using different materials and processes in the years ahead, Medero explained that such a shift was “the only way forward. The way we are doing (things) as a construction sector … is not sustainable long term.”

“It’s the exploitation of natural resources, it’s the… massive volumes of waste, together with the massive volumes of carbon emissions,” she added. “We need to change.”

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