RMIT and Visy develop energy-saving bricks as alternatives to clay

by Helena Morgan
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RMIT University engineers have collaborated with Australia’s largest recycling company, Visy, to develop bricks from industry waste that would otherwise clog landfills. 

The Melbourne-based university has continued its streak of devising ingenious and innovative recycling solutions from an engineering perspective, with fire-safe recycled glass cladding and ‘3D-printed concrete walls preceding the most recent invention of energy-smart bricks that can substitute for clay.

RMIT engineering students and Visy made bricks with a minimum of 15 percent waste glass and 20 percent combusted solid waste that are capable of improving insulation and slashing energy costs. If the bricks are used in the construction of a single-storey building, households could save up to five percent on energy bills. 

Additionally, the team uncovered possible savings in manufacturing costs, as replacing clay with waste materials in the brick production process contributed to a 20 percent reduction in the firing temperature compared with standard brick mixtures.  

Standard bricks guilty culprits of releasing harmful emissions  

Associate professor Dilan Robert underscores the value of this discovery to emissions reduction, as approximately 1.4 trillion bricks are used in construction projects every year and bleed natural resources – such as clay – dry. 

“Business-as-usual brick production produces harmful emissions – including carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and chlorine,” says Robert. 

Fulfilling environmental regulations 

The new bricks also demonstrate improved thermal performance and satisfy strict structural, durability and environmental standards, including the primary compliance requirement of fired clay bricks outlined by Standards Australia (AS 3700). 

RMIT environmental engineer Dr Biplob Pramanik confirmed the new bricks are suitable for construction projects. “Our bricks meet state environmental regulations,” he says.

Robert says the next step for the research team is to accelerate the production process, scout Melbourne-based brick manufacturers eager to collaborate and sell the new bricks and consider applications of waste material in other construction products.   

A big leap in powering the circular economy 

Visy was particularly reassured by the discovery of recycling solutions for materials, like broken glass pieces smaller than 3mm – referred to as fines –  that are unable to be recycled into new food and beverage packaging. 

“Diverting this waste into bricks with added insulation, rather than landfill, is another way we are powering the circular economy,” says Visy innovation project manager Paul Andrich.

Photography by Seamus Daniel.

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