Concrete of the Future: Putting Plastic in Concrete Works!

Imagine concrete with no gravel and no sand in it. Would it be strong? What would it be used for? And most importantly, what would you use in place of the gravel and sand? Well, if you’re Henry Louis Miller, an architecture graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, you’d try plastic. And then you’d win a prestigious award in an annual design contest called the “Concrete Thinking for a Sustainable World” competition.

So what he did was replace the usual 60-75% aggregate component (gravel etc.) with ground up plastic that otherwise would have joined the rest of the  landfill, and mix it with pure Portland cement.  Unbelievably, Miller’s product proved to be every bit as strong as regular concrete. And that’s how he won first prize in the “Component Category” of the second annual competition sponsored by the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA).

In this international competition, students can either work solo or in teams.  The contest looks for innovative ideas that are energy-efficient and ecologically-friendly (i.e. sustainable designs) as well as designs that can improve building or structural performance.  While the competition requires only the “concept” to be submitted, Miller went ahead and constructed a couple of structures to demonstrate the feasibility of his idea.

Who knows whether this experiment will catch on in a big way in the future, but if it does, it has the potential to greatly reduce the environmental impacts of both traditional concrete production and plastics recycling. This futuristic concrete doesn’t require rock to be quarried and crushed or gravel to be extracted from the earth, nor does it involve heating to melt the plastic. Think of the energy savings.

Sounds like a worthwhile venture!