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. Scot B

    I wonder how the cost compares to traditional bricks you'd pickup and Lowes or Home Depot?

    October 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • American indian

      Well if they have more wool than they can use, they might be cheaper if the demand isn't too high.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      The alginate is a new innovation. The wool is actually ancient. Wool was also used in plaster and mortar long ago to impart strength.
      It's always good to see old technology get dusted off and modernized.
      Good work! And shoot some of that wool over this way, winter is coming.

      October 6, 2010 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. Whizerd

    Hmmm..very interesting to see where this goes. I'd like to buy into it right now! Good job to the researchers. Blessed Be to all.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Blessed be to all? What does this have anything to do with blessings?

      October 5, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • McJesus

      Magic spells my friend... magic spells. You were just granted +1 to saving throws a +1 bonus to morale, and granted protection from evil for 2 turns. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Take advantage of the blessing and go slay some goblins before it wears off!

      October 6, 2010 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
    • RuFngKdngMe?

      McJesus I love you.

      Alright. Let's see.. I'm rolling my D20 .... I rolled a 10 vs the goblin's AC of 12.. Damnit! Wait. I have that blessing! So that's +1 to hit and the goblin is evil, right? So that's a hit! Now let me roll for damage. This is awesome!

      October 6, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • RuFngKdngMe?

      I forgot to mention my dagger is +1! (I can add :D)

      October 6, 2010 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • elidude

      no firing = less impact on the environment, which blesses humanity and the earth, and –if it fits into comsmology– would be a human endeavor blessed, therefore by God because it is GOOD.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Hunter

      I thought that was great info also.I have built my own conventional home and find that it isn't insulated well enough. i have R19 in the walls and R30 in the cieling its not enough. I want to sell and build a mud brick straw bale house ,with a littlemodern framing to add structural support. This sounds like the brick for me!

      October 6, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. Popeye

    If the bricks aren't fired, what is keeping them from soaking up moisture and melting away in the rain? Because without firing, a brick is a block of mud.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • DavidJ

      Perhaps some form of open air curing? I would like more information on the process too.

      October 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • American indian

      Guess adobe huts should have washed away hundreds of years ago by your analogy.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • hebramleigh

      American Indian,
      Adobe bricks were used in primarily dry regions with little humidity and with limited rainfall. When exposed to constant humidity and rainfall, they do not last nearly as long as fired bricks. Perhaps YOU should learn a little before you speak...

      October 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • SiameseCats

      You do not see a lot of adobe in rainy or humid areas. It is great in the desert.

      October 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      If you noticed in the article, they mentioned clay. Clay doesn't absorb water well at all. Some clays actually become QUITE hard by drying without heat, so this is a retake on some very old technology.

      October 6, 2010 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      Britain is apparently pretty wet. Cob houses there have survived for hundreds of years.
      That's just mud, clay, sand, and straw. No firing.

      October 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Since when does clay NOT absorb water??? Why then do you dry clay bodies out to a temperature over 300 C to ensure all chemical water is removed?

      October 7, 2010 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Kerry Berger

    I'm curious to know how you can make a brick that doesn't require firing? Why didn't the journalist get into explaining more about the manufacturing process? This is interesting, but this article is way too superficial.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob Floyd

      I think the seaweed polymer is used as a glue to keep the block together and water resistant.

      October 6, 2010 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryno

      Seriously – this is actually kinda cool, and they give it the most bare-bones article possible.

      October 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rick DeBay

    > If the bricks aren't fired, what is keeping them from soaking up moisture
    The article should have read "37% stronger than other bricks made using unfired stabilized earth" instead of "conventional bricks" as conventional bricks are fired.
    However, the abstract actually says "Tests done showed that the addition of alginate separately increases compression strength from 2.23 to 3.77 MPa and the addition of wool fibre increases compression strength a 37%."
    With more work they may be able to meet the minimum requirements for non-structural brick.

    October 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    If ytou read the article closely, they are comparing these to fired bricks, in that they point out that:
    "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."

    So, Popeye's question is valid. Since firing a brick causes the minerals in the clay to undergo glassification (which is why fired bricks "clink" when you knock them together) which makes them strong, and keeps them from dissolving back into clay.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mike

    Techniques for unfired bricks have existed for millenia. The problem is that they suhk, Congratulations to researchers for re-discovering obsolete technologies.

    October 5, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • American indian

      And you don't know dick about anythingat all.

      October 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cieje Valentine

    Cool. I'd like to have a die-cast house instead, though.. Wonder how much that would cost per 100 sq. ft. ?

    October 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jim

    I wonder what would happen if you added carbon fibers? Would you get a really strong brick. Also what about other fibers? We all know about adding straw to bricks. How about nylon, or should I dare ask Hemp?

    October 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Hunter

      Hemp is the answer. Think of all the oil pollimers that wouldnt be needed for plstics alone

      October 6, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. sludster

    The answer to your question lies in the word"polymer".

    October 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David

    I would like more information about the process as well. But I am interested in it to understand if the same strategies used apply to cinder block as well. The reason I ask is as this is the primary building material in Haiti, and if adding fibers to cinder block has the same benefit then it might be a way to strengthen buildings. I know the lack of rebar was the main reason for building failure during the earthquake, but if the bricks can be made stronger that would be a help as well.

    October 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike from Pekin

      In theory it should, though cinderblocks are actually a concrete based product. However, they add fiberglass fibers to concrete to make it stronger, so why not cinderblock?

      October 5, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • SiameseCats

      Adding fibers to concrete blocks will do nothing for the earthquake problem. You really need the rebar.

      October 5, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • kake79

      A major issue in Haiti was the quality of the concrete, not the fact that it was concrete. To save money, the mixtures used are more sandy than they should be. I'd also like to note that the old, wood buildings survived because they can move with the earth during a quake. Not that wood is completely ideal, either since Haiti is a tropical climate.

      October 6, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. mario gutz

    Coconut husk would work also... and, bamboo poles for rebar.

    October 6, 2010 at 1:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. andres bonifacio

    "Blessed be to all" yes blessed be to all ... If only we could all be prayerful as that, there would be less trouble in the world today....

    October 6, 2010 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • RuFngKdngMe?

      Religion is the root of all evil. Now and in all of recorded history.

      October 6, 2010 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Like if we all just prayed, then we wouldn't have time to notice that the world's biggest religion are organised child-molesters?

      October 6, 2010 at 4:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Hunter

      Yes my brother!

      October 6, 2010 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Matthew Hunter

      Don't listen to the nay sayer. There is sick people in every group.They are just able to hide themselfs better in these groups

      October 6, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. RuFngKdngMe?

    Couldn't we just cut to the chase and say anything fibrous will add to the strength of unfired bricks?

    October 6, 2010 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • aphrodite

      you're the one the has brought 'religion' into all this.................so you must have an issue with it,
      check it out my friend...................
      can we just have some knowledge about how to make these fr...... bricks???????

      October 7, 2010 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. MacCraig

    If it's not SCOTTISH it's CRAP!

    October 6, 2010 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
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