R&D into Cheaper and Sustainable Non-Flammable Building Materials

flammable building materials
Jos Brouwers and Qingliang Yu. Photo's: Vincent van den Hoogen, Angeline Swinkels.

The building industry still uses a lot of flammable building materials. An example is the increased use of synthetic insulation materials to meet the climate demands. These materials have outstanding insulation characteristics, but unfortunately they are also flammable. The Dutch Association of Insurers sounded the alarm about this last month, as a result of the increasing number of fires. In a new large project, Eindhoven University of Technology will develop new materials with extremely good fire-resistant qualities, are sustainable to produce and are cheap. This should help to prevent disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire.

In this project, TU/e professor of Building Materials Jos Brouwers and his assistant professor Qingliang Yu start from so-called geopolymers, materials with a molecular structure similar to that of plastic. But where the core of plastic polymer is of organic origin, in geopolymers the origin is mineralogical, hence the name. In practice, geopolymers are very similar to cement.

An important feature is that geopolymers have an unprecedentedly high fire resistance. Concrete from normal cement weakens steadily above 500 degrees, geopolymer by contrast keeps its strength much longer, partly because it spalls much less. In addition, much more CO2 is released during the production of ordinary cement than during the production of geopolymers. For comparable applications, total CO2 emissions are 20 to 70 percent lower.

Brouwers and his research team want to develop a geopolymer that is about 30% lower in terms of CO2 emissions. To this end, they will develop a new, less energy-intensive process for the production of nanosilica, the main component of geopolymers. They will also examine the extent to which they can use industrial waste such as fly ash as a raw material.

The project also converts the developed material into two applications: structural (load-bearing) concrete, and fire-resistant coating. Furthermore, the properties of the new material are being extensively researched, with a special focus on fire resistance. In cooperation with the fire brigade, all hell will almost literally be let loose on the new geopolymer. The final products must be lower in terms of price and CO2 emissions than the current fire-resistant materials, and equal or higher in terms of fire resistance.

The university will carry out the project with the support of and in cooperation with the Dutch Fire Department, M2i and the companies Rockwool, Mineralz, Kijlstra Beton and Nieman, which together are bearing more than half of the well over  € 500,000 project costs, with research financier NWO bearing € 175.000,-  of the costs. The project started this June.

Source : Eindhoven University of Technology