Industry collaboration creates greener concrete
James Cook University (JCU) scientists have teamed up with Queensland company Fibercon to develop a concrete product that is made from recycled plastic, reducing the carbon footprint of construction at no additional cost.
The research team led by Dr Rabin Tuladhar from JCU developed the innovative product using recycled polypropylene plastic waste from industry to reinforce concrete. The manufacturing process includes melt-spinning and hot-drawing processes which strengthen the molecular structure of the recycled polypropylene, and surface modification (diamond shaped indents) which improve its bonding with concrete.
The result is Emesh – a robust, durable and crack-resistant concrete product strong enough to replace steel mesh in concrete footpaths. Earlier this year, the product was successfully trialled in the construction of a 100m concrete footpath at JCU, and pre-cast concrete drainage pits designed by Fibercon.
Environmentally-friendly products are often more expensive than traditional alternatives, but with Emesh that’s not that case. The product is either cost neutral or offers cost and time savings compared to steel-reinforced concrete. Using recycled plastic in concrete also reduces the plastic waste that goes to landfill and helps to decrease the carbon footprint of construction.
This ‘greener concrete’ was developed as part of PhD student Shi Yin’s research at JCU, and recently won the Manufacturing, Construction and Innovation category at The Australian Innovation Challenge. The next phase of research will further enhance the mechanical and bond properties of plastic fibres using surface modification. The team is also looking into the potential use of recycled plastic fibres in other pre-cast concrete applications.