Flash Bricks: A Black, But Green, Building Material

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have developed a new building material made entirely of fly ash, a waste product that comes out of coal-fired power plants. Currently, fly ash is often mixed with concrete, and as a component in other materials, in order to divert the ash from the waste stream and reduce the need to process virgin materials. While just the thought of living in a house made partially out of coal waste would make most people ill, fly ash composites are fairly common, and the U.S. E.P.A. says that certified fly ash building material, at least that made with western coal, is not a health hazard. Still, the stuff can be quite dangerous. The new process, developed by Dr. Obada Kayali (in magician pose above) and Karl Shaw, promises to turn it instead into a non-toxic and lightweight building material on its own—ideal for production in developing countries where coal plants are plentiful (ahem, China, India), and for sale in countries where they are not, and where light materials are needed (the Middle East). Indeed, Flash Bricks are 28 percent lighter and 24 percent stronger than comparable clay bricks, while a separate aggregate, Flashag, can be used to make concrete that is 22 percent lighter and 20 percent stronger than standard products. The result is lighter structures, shallower foundations, cheaper transportation, less usage of cement and steel reinforcement, and more slender building components (translating to larger rentable space). The bricks also generate fewer emissions in manufacture since they take less time in the kiln to manufacture than clay bricks. Already two patents and licenses have been issued for the UK and US markets, while the university's commercialization arm, NewSouth Innovations, is seeking interest from companies wanting to develop the technology for China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe and India. Here’s hoping the idea, well, flies. : : Press release: Laying the foundations for a green industry and : : Fly Ash Information Center