One of the first things we find out about building materials is this – houses made of straw aren’t as good as houses made from wood or stone.
But now a new project from researchers at Brunel University London plans to change that narrative by producing super-strength straw building materials that compare favourably with more conventional options.
Whilst Compressed Strawboards (CBS) aren’t new, the new project, funded by £300,000 from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, aims to increase their strength by over 50% by removing defects from the raw materials. At present, up to 10 million tonnes of straw is ploughed back into the land or put to low-grade each year, but researchers now hope this figure can be significantly reduced by ‘upcycling’ it into building materials.
“We aim to significantly increase the performance of strawboard by focusing in on the details of the raw materials,” said Dr Seyed Ghaffar, an Assistant Professor for Brunel’s department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“This includes mechanical, physical, chemical and surface properties which play a crucial role in the product performance.”
Previous research by Dr Ghaffar and his team identified the defects that can undermine the strength of the straw as a building material, and he says the new research will begin to develop novel ways to removing these defects.
“One of the focuses of the HPCSB project is to develop an efficient and industrially feasible method of removing these defects from straw,” said Dr Ghaffar.
“Will plan to show that the removal of straw’s defects and the modification of its surface will increase the performance of CSBs.”
Straw offers a number of advantages over the more traditional wood, as it’s faster growing time makes it much more rapidly renewable, but at present its comparative weakness means it’s rarely used.
“Our research is needed to bridge the performance gap between CSBs and conventional building products, said Dr Ghaffar.
“This needs to be driven by a combination of creative design, focused academic research, applied technology and stakeholder collaboration/engagement.”
Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
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