Australian scientists at Flinders University have found that revolutionary ‘green’ types of bricks and construction materials could be made from recycled PVC, waste plant fibers or sand with the help of a remarkable new kind of recently discovered rubber polymer. The rubber polymer, itself made from sulfur and canola oil, can be compressed and heated with fillers to create construction materials of the future.

The researchers report the news in a paper published in the Young Chemist issue of Chemistry — A European Journal.

Flinders University organic chemist Associate Professor Justin Chalker noted, “This method could produce materials that may one day replace non-recyclable construction materials, bricks and even concrete replacement.”

Image Credit: Flinders University. Click image for the largest view.

The powdered rubber can potentially be used as tubing, rubber coatings or bumpers, or compressed, heated then mixed with other fillers to form entirely new composites, including more sustainable building blocks, concrete replacement or insulation.

Cement is a finite resource and highly polluting in its production, with concrete production estimated to contribute more than 8% of global greenhouse gases emissions, and the construction industry worldwide accounting for about 18%.

Associate Professor Chalker and collaborator Dr Louisa Esdaile, with support from other Flinders, Deakin University and University of Western Australia researchers added, “This is also important because there are currently few methods to recycle PVC or carbon fiber.”

Lead author Flinders PhD Nic Lundquist said, “This new recycling method and new composites are an important step forward in making sustainable construction materials, and the rubber material can be repeatedly ground up and recycled. The rubber particles also can be first used to purify water and then repurposed into a rubber mat or tubing.”

Co-author and research collaborator Dr. Louisa Esdaile, a special contributor to this month’s Young Chemist issue of Chemistry, said the important research looks at ways to repurpose and recycle materials, so that these materials are multi-use by design. “Such technology is important in a circular economy,” she added.

The new manufacturing and recycling technique, labeled ‘reactive compression molding,’ applies to rubber material that can be compressed and stretched, but one that doesn’t melt. The unique chemical structure of the sulfur backbone in the novel rubber allows for multiple pieces of the rubber to bond together.

The project started two years ago in the Flinders University Chalker Laboratory as a third-year project by Ryan Shapter, with Flinders University PhD candidates Nicholas Lundquist and Alfrets Tikoalu and others contributed to the paper in this month’s special Young Chemist issue of ChemEurJ.

Now this is encouraging news, indeed. Plastics are a serious problem across the globe in polluting and simply trashing up the environment. Its even found in great amounts far out in the oceans.

If this is an economical way to make permanent use of these materials and there is an incentive to reuse instead of trashing them it will be a gift to all humanity as well as wildlife and for landfill longevity.


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