Cement fortified with biochar recycled from saw dust seen as game-changer in construction industry

As part of the growing push to make the world a greener place to live, researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have found a way to enhance building structures without harming the environment. The new method utilizes biochar recycled from saw dust mixed with cement, which ultimately “improves the strength and water tightness of mortar and concrete,” and provides an alternative to what normally would be a large volume of wood waste in Singapore, according to AlphaGalileo.org.

The significance of this discovery for the nation of Singapore cannot be overstated. In the year 2016 alone, Singapore produced more than 530,000 tons of wood waste, which includes both solid pieces of wood and saw dust. Instead of burning this waste or disposing it in landfills, it can now be recycled to make biochar, which, notably, absorbs and retains water extremely well. For this very reason, biochar is used quite often in the agricultural industry to improve crop yield.

According to Associate Professor Kua Harn Wei, one of the key contributors to this discovery out of the National University of Singapore, “This is a simple and affordable strategy to enhance our building structures, particularly in Singapore, where water leakage from rain and water pipes are common problems. At the same time, we are putting the large amount of wood waste generated in Singapore to good use.” Professor Kua added that nearly 50 kilograms of wood waste can be used for every ton of concrete produced, meaning that it would take six tons of wood waste being recycled to build an apartment building that has a floor area of one hundred meters.

Environmentally-friendly and affordable

The move towards introducing a more environmentally-friendly way of producing fortified cement comes at a time when, statistically speaking, Singapore isn’t recycling as much as it has in the past. According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), a total of 4.72 million tons of waste was recycled in the year 2017, a figure that is roughly 50,000 tons fewer than the previous year’s 4.77 million tones. In other words, for the past couple of years, the nation of Singapore has been gradually recycling less and less.

Notably, this decline took place despite the fact that the country has been making a concerted effort to encourage its people to recycle more. For example, in the year 2014, the government began providing every single HDB block with a blue recycling bin, a dramatic increase from one bin for every five blocks. Also in 2014, the government announced that all public housing projects from that point forward would be built with recycling chutes, which can be used for disposing of items such as books, newspapers, glass bottles and plastic. (Related: Here are ten reasons why recycling will save humanity.)

Given this push to encourage their people to recycle more often, it seems a bit odd that recycling in Singapore has actually dropped over the past couple of years. According to the NEA, this decrease is largely the result of lower amounts of wood waste, plastic and paper being recycled. Plastic was the country’s biggest concern, though, due to the fact that it is harmful to the environment and only 51,800 tones were recycled in 2017, down from 57,554 in 2016.

When it comes to food waste, however, Singapore did better than it has in the past. In 2016, roughly 111,100 tons of food waste was recycled, and in 2017, that number rose to 133,000. (Related: Read about why this new “recycling” technology is actually cannibalism.)

In the meantime, researchers at the National University of Singapore will continue looking for alternative uses to the waste that the country produces. Currently, the NUS team is working with a local firm to potentially commercialize the fortified cement technology, and is also looking for other ways to develop high-performance cement composites.

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