For about ten thousand years, the humble brick has been a cornerstone of human construction. It has been reinvented many times since the ancient Mesopotamians first used mud-baked bricks, and the latest reinvention comes from MIT’s Tata Center for Technology and Design, who aim to create a brick that meets modern needs and challenges in south Asia. The product of their research, the Eco-BLAC Brick, could catalyze a revolution in safety and environmentalism in the region’s construction industry.
In coming years, India’s population, already huge and largely rural, has been projected to surpass China’s. To accommodate the growth, the nation’s brickmaking industry will itself rapidly expand. This expansion is a prospect that worries many people across various fields because the industry is currently a root cause of a slew of problems which will be exacerbated by increased brick production.
According to the Tata Center researchers, Indian brickmaking techniques have shown little progression since the British Raj in the 19th century- a lack of evolution that is beginning to catch up with India. Already, the brick kilns have depleted prodigious amounts of topsoil around the country, damaging large swathes of farmland and preventing future development. The actual kiln-firing requires large amounts of fuel and produces excessive amounts of environment-damaging emissions. Finally, the lack of government regulation seen in many of region’s industries also can be found in brick-making, leading to dangerous conditions for workers and encouraging production of cheap, low-quality bricks that are probably a major factor in the epidemic of building collapses in India and its neighbors.
The eco-BLAC brick
The MIT researchers have been able to identify a possible solution by looking towards another of India’s problematic industries: paper mills. Hundreds are scattered around the nation, each producing large amounts of waste in the form of boiler ash. The eco-BLAC brick, developed by chemical and structural engineers, uses this boiler ash, as well as locally obtainable minerals, to create a material that can be cured at room temperature rather than a thousand degrees celsius. Further modified after durability and longevity testing, the researchers feel the brick is developed enough to enter production.
Compression testing the brick
The eco-BLAC brick is therefore environmentally friendly on multiple levels, less dangerous to workers, and able to allow the brickmaking industry to grow without an increase in traditional kiln-fired brick production. It can also become a key part of the Tata Center’s other work concerning Indian urbanization, such as the development of a “confined masonry” building model that is more earthquake-resistant than traditional designs. Most of all, the brick’s development demonstrates the versatility of structural engineering and the field’s ability to solve new problems faced in the 21st century. Hopefully, authorities see the benefit of enlisting research groups and engineers to fix South Asia’s ever-growing issue of structural collapses.
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