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Follow the green-brick road

While most members of the biorefining sector think biofuels when they think about algae, a group of students in Singapore is showing that the photosynthetic organisms might also serve as a renewable component of some concretes.
By Erin Voegele | December 30, 2011

While most members of the biorefining sector think biofuels when they think about algae, a group of students in Singapore is showing that the photosynthetic organisms might also serve as a renewable component of some concretes. Imagine the possibility of driving your algae-biofuel powered car down an algae-concrete road.

The discovery has been made by a group of final-year students enrolled in Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment. According to a local news report published on the school’s website, the students have found that concrete for road curbs and drains could be made with a mix of algae and cement, rather than the traditional concrete formulation of cement and sand.

Although sand is an abundant commodity in the U.S., the article notes that the finding could benefit Singapore’s local construction industry, as neighboring countries have recently banned the export of sand. Algae, however, is said to be freely available in many water catchment areas in Singapore.

According to the report, the students have experimented with several algae/cement formulations, with the strongest ratio identified as 40 percent algae and 60 percent sand. However, the construction industry has stressed that long-term evaluations would need to prove that the algae concrete wouldn’t degrade at a faster rate than traditional concrete.

Information available about the project makes no mention of the possibility of using purpose-grown algae as a component of concrete. However, it seems that using a uniform strain would help ensure a consistent final cement product.

While there is certainly a long way to go before the students’ work could lead to commercial deployment, the concept would open up an interesting new market for algae producers. Cement is one of the most traded commodities on the planet, and construction companies are continually looking for ways to “green” their operations and the structures they build.

The students are presenting their findings to members of industry at the Singapore Polytechnic’s Engineering Show.  

 

 

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