Research will investigate viability of non-conventional building materials

Grass energy efficient home

Engineering researchers at the University of South Wales are investigating the use of non-conventional building materials and designs in energy efficient homes.

Collaborating with civil engineers at the University of Embu in Kenya, the study will look at improving the properties and appeal of traditional buildings such as mud, coral limestone and calcined clays so that they can serve as sustainable alternatives to concrete.

Concrete is the most widely-used material in the world, with a carbon footprint to match.  While adaptable and hard wearing, concrete is neither biodegradable nor environmentally friendly. Once it has started cracking, or becoming uneven, it needs to be smashed up and replaced, or covered with further layers of new concrete. Cement manufacture contributes to 5 -10% of all anthropogenic global atmospheric CO2 production. 

John Kinuthia, Professor of Civil Engineering, and head of the Advanced Materials Testing Centre (AMTeC), said: “Despite being used for hundreds of years, these traditional materials have been put aside in favour of cement and concrete, and the resultant buildings end up with a very high carbon footprint that includes using a lot of energy either to heat up or to cool. 

“These materials have the potential to be used instead of cement. Clays, for example, either neat or when mixed in with rice husks or cowdung, have been found to be durable, thermo-resistant, and have viable compressive strength; their usage has the potential to obviate the need for up to 50 percent of ordinary Portland cement.”

Prof John KinuthiaAbout John Kinuthia

Kenyan-born John Kinuthia is a chartered engineer with expertise in sustainable development, waste management, and transportation engineering. He is known for his cutting-edge approach, incorporating emergent concepts technologies such 3D printing, smart concrete, as well as nano- and geo-polymer materials. Recent industrial partners include Catnic Tata Steel Ltd; Tarmac Plc and ELKEM. To enquire about collaborative research opportunities, please contact USW Exchange.