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As construction technology continues to advance, new ways of building continue to appear. Professionals in the industry are exploring new techniques and materials to not only keep up with the times, but also to boost the efficiency of construction projects.

Conventional construction requires the use of natural resources such as stone, water and wood that are finite and have an impact on the environment when used. While many construction companies are going green, many have focused on revamping practices instead of finding alternative materials. This has led to concerted efforts to find building materials that can replace the natural resources that have been relied upon for centuries. These materials, while looking and feeling different, are being implemented to save the environment and protect the community from energy waste.

In the UK, an international research project has made significant strides in introducing sustainable building material that can keep up with modern thermal standards. The project, known as CobBauge, is led by the University of Plymouth and aims to increase the ability of cob (a mixture of earth, water and straw fibres) to retain heat. The technique makes use of two grades of the material – a lightweight version that has superior insulating properties, and a denser version – to come up with the alternative building material.

The use of cob is significant in the global drive to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the atmosphere, not to mention the potential reduction in construction waste that may be realised as a result of its use. This is because the soil used to make cob is gathered at the site. The main drawback against cob’s use – especially the traditional version – is that it does not meet most modern thermal standards.

Sharing the results, project leader Professor Steve Goodhew was hopeful that the cob that had been produced would meet the expectations of those seeking an energy-efficient building material. He was confident that what the project had produced could be used in the construction of modern houses.

While much of the research work has focused on the use of natural fibres in coming up with cob, there are efforts to find out whether recycled by-product can be used in the CobBauge mix. The next stage of the international project is to build at least two houses using the technique, with researchers also keen to publish guidelines on how to use the cob mixes in construction.

Environment-Friendly Alternatives

Around the world, building professionals such as John Hiscocks, architect – lead architect at Hill International in Qatar – have been keen to see the impact of new construction techniques and materials on the industry. Cob is among many alternative materials that are aiming to become mainstream and be integrated into building design.

Others include:

  1. Sustainable Concrete: While concrete is a mainstay in almost every construction project, the fact that it contributes significantly to global carbon emissions is enough to keep researchers up at night. The major issue arises from the process of creating cement – which is the binder material in concrete – so any alternative is largely welcome. One idea is to make use of waste materials such as wood chips and crushed glass in construction as they require less binder.
  2. Solar Tiles: While the main purpose of roof tiles is to protect a building from the effects of natural elements, traditional tiles don’t make efficient use of the sun’s light and heat that they are exposed to. Some companies are looking to make solar tiles that capture this energy and enable its use in buildings.