Engineers use recycled glass as a sustainable fire-resistant cladding material
A team of engineers has developed a fire-resistant cladding using recycled glass particles. Researchers at RMIT University in Australia claim their solution is cheap, structurally robust, and fire-resistant.
The composite cladding material was developed in association with a materials technology company named Livefield to enable a "circular-economy solution to address a major waste stream," according to a news release by the University.
It is estimated that about 130 million tonnes of glass are produced each year globally, but a meager 21 percent of that is recycled glass. The use of 83% recycled glass in the product has the potential to reduce the amount of glass that goes to landfill substantially. The material also includes relatively low amounts of plastic binders and fire-retardant additives.
A unique blend that ensures toughness
The problems associated with glass claddings, which are brittle and prone to cracks, were avoided by a unique blend of plastic binders that provided improved stiffness to the product.
According to the team, various tests have proven that "claddings are fire-safe, water-resistant and cheap, and meet structural and environmentally sustainable requirements." Furthermore, the technology has cleared the compliance requirement of Standards Australia of claddings for non-combustibility.
Livefield is patenting the technology and exploring possibilities for large-scale recycled glass composite cladding material manufacturing.
A sustainable solution to a significant problem
The solution from the engineers helps buildings to become fire-resistant. According to the team, claddings play a crucial role in preventing the spread of fire, particularly in high-rise buildings.
“Some of the most catastrophic building fires, like the 2017 Grenfell tower fire in London that led to many deaths and injuries, have been attributed to the poor fire-prevention performance of cladding materials, said Robert. The research was done to highlight the relevance of understanding and designing fire-resistant cladding materials and systems for the building and construction sector.
Recycled glass was preferred as it is one of the most recyclable materials in the world as it doesn’t lose its quality or purity, and according to the engineers, it can be reutilized for multiple applications across a wide range of industries. “By using high amounts of recycled glass in building claddings, while ensuring they meet fire safety and other standards, we are helping to find a solution to the very real waste challenge."
The team has published its research on its new cladding technology in the journal Construction and Building Materials.
External claddings have been identified as a more critical component in buildings than before due to many catastrophic fire incidents that occurred in recent decades. Present-day engineers seek claddings with improved fire performance to satisfy state/government mandates against fire hazards. It is challenging to cater to the increased cladding demand using conventional materials while observing circular economic principles. As such, researchers and materials engineers have been paying more attention to identifying alternative cladding products. This challenge is further exacerbated due to the limited understanding of fire performance and compliance requirements of building cladding by practitioners. This review provides a detailed assessment of building claddings that satisfy compliance for non-combustibility. The review first summarizes the relevant experimental fire test standards and compares them to theoretical/numerical fire modeling and simulation results based on studies reported in the literature. The effect of different cladding materials on fire spread is then explored by discussing desirable material characteristics that are essential for the development of cladding systems with adequate fire performance. Finally, a compliance pathway that satisfies the fire requirements for cladding systems is discussed leading to the proposition of engineering processes and tools for assessing the suitability of cladding materials for different building types. This review paper will benefit the building and construction industries by helping practitioners understand the fire performance and compliance requirements for fire-resistant cladding materials ahead of their introduction into buildings.