October 5th, 2010
12:54 PM ET

Seaweed, wool make traditional bricks tougher

Wool bricks are 37 percent stronger than regular bricks, researchers say.

You’ve got more wool, clay and seaweed than you know what to do with. Here’s a solution: Make really strong bricks.

Researchers in Spain and Scotland say they’ve done just that.

In experiments conducted at the University of Seville in Spain and the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, researchers added wool fibers to the claylike soil used to make bricks, then threw in alginate conglomerate, a polymer made from seaweed, according to a study published in the journal Construction and Building Materials.

The bricks with wool were 37 percent stronger than conventional bricks and were more resistant to cracks and fissure, the researchers reported. Wool bricks are also energy savers as they’re made without firing, they said.

"This is a more sustainable and healthy alternative to conventional building materials such as baked earth bricks and concrete blocks," the study’s authors, Carmen Galán and Carlos Rivera, said.

The bricks aren’t going to force anyone to give up their kilts or sweaters. Scotland’s sheep farmers produce more wool than its textile industry can use, the researchers say.

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Filed under: Architecture • Environment • Scotland • Scotland • Spain • Technology
soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. RCC

    Yes Jeff – all Catholics are organized child-molesters. You got us. Just keep believing your small stereotypes and living in your small world.

    RuFngKdngMe? – Religions is not the root of all evil. People are the root of all evil. Evil has been done in the name of religion, but the central tenet of the majority of religions is peace and love.

    October 6, 2010 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Whilst saying a supernatural being that is everywhere and anywhere, is watching you every moment of your life, and if you defy him, and/or the church, you will go to a place with fire, and burning, and torture.....but he loves you!

      October 6, 2010 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  2. Arne

    Unfired clay bricks are considered to be generally robust but best when used for internal applications and worst when used externally in places with freeze thaw cycles. They are more susceptible to impact damage and when used for corners it is recommended that the corner be rounded. For more information see:
    http://www.arc-architects.com/downloads/Earth-Masonry-Basic-Guidance.pdf

    The primary importance of this "find" is that a pre-existing environmentally friendly building material has now been made stronger and to provide a new marketplace for existing excess wool. By not requiring "firing", these bricks reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas releases. A 37% increase in strength may be enough to overcome their external application inherent weakness but it is not clear exactly how they compare to fired bricks in this regard. I tried to access the original study: "Clay-based composite stabilized with natural polymer and fibre" in Construction and Building Materials, Volume 24, Issue 8, August 2010, Pages 1462-1468 but they require a paid subscription.

    October 6, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Popeye

      Arne, thanks for the pdf link. That explains so much. Using brick inside a house as thermal mass instead of sheet rock is counterintuative to my thinking of how brick is used. It is an interesting concept to make a house more energy efficient.

      October 6, 2010 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  3. hankers

    Wool, Bha! When I was young we used asbestos fibres to strengthem materials and we loved it!

    October 6, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      I love the smell of asbestos in the morning.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. Soulcatcher

    Stupid question: Are they more flammeable?

    October 6, 2010 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      Wool is flame retardant, that's why it's used in fire blankets and was the preferred fabric for rugs. Not sure about the polymer from the seaweed though.

      October 6, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Shelly Jo

    I think they should use the bricks where they work best,but then check them for lon term effects on our helth.berfore selling them to the public.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Seaweed and wool are notorious carcinogens.

      October 6, 2010 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. Yes1Fan

    Same concept as glass fibers in fiberglass / epoxy construction of boats, etc.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Sheep Lover

    Aye, when we're not shaggin' them we're finding something else to do wi' the wool! Ah, the ingenuity of the Scots still prevails.

    October 6, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  8. Jack

    They don't bake the bricks? Then just wait until they get wet. They'll turn back to clay.

    October 6, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. EO

    Need diamond pick axe......must harvest!

    October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. crazycorgi

    So this guy could have built me a house, eh?
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3665735.stm

    October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  11. VegasRage

    I want to see these get broken at the next world martial arts expo

    October 6, 2010 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. P.J.

    The really important question here is: Can the big bad wolf blow the house down?

    October 6, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. PaulBoomer

    Years ago before sheetrock (drywall) old timers added horse hair to wall and ceiling plaster to make it stronger and more resistant to cracking. Straw is still added to adobe for the same reasons.

    October 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Juliet

    IF the wool could be taken humanely. But what a lot of people don't know is how harshly it's usually sheared from the sheep. Sheep have deep wrinkles in their skin and more often than not the poor animals are done very rushed. The shears rip into the skin where it wrinkles and they wind up really butchered and cut up. The industry needs to be better regulated. Until then, I'm passing on wool.

    October 6, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThePBW

      And I pass on seaweed, I'm pretty sure it's not harvested humanely either. Seaweed are people too.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. SettlingForLess

    Anyone want to trade wool for brick? Or wheat?

    October 7, 2010 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
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