Ali Kriscenski

BITUBLOCK: Building blocks made from compressed rubbish!

by , 11/15/07

BituBlock, Dr. John Forth, University of Leeds, bitumen, concrete, CO2, recycled waste, post-consumer waste, Portland cement

If we told you there was a sustainable substitute for concrete you’d probably say rubbish!… and you would be right. The dream of a resource-saving, emissions-reducing replacement for concrete is becoming a reality in the form of BituBlock – made from post-consumer waste. Dr. John Forth of the University of Leeds is behind the revolutionary process that turns rubbish into a strong, less-energy intensive structural material that is poised to make concrete obsolete.



BituBlock, Dr. John Forth, University of Leeds, bitumen, concrete, CO2, recycled waste, post-consumer waste, Portland cement

BituBlock is a high-performance product that is about six times stronger than traditional concrete block. It’s made by mixing waste products like recycled glass, metal slag, sewage sludge and incinerator ash with a sticky binder called bitumen, also used in road paving. The mixture is compacted in a mold and heat-cured, which oxidizes and hardens the bitumen.

While high recycled content is a vital part of sustainable construction, BituBlock’s landfill diverted ingredients are just part of what makes it so groundbreaking. Concrete is the most widely-used construction material with over ten billion tons produced annually. About 7% of global CO2 emissions come from concrete production. The primary source of CO2 emissions generated by concrete manufacturing is Portland cement, responsible for 74% to 81% of total CO2 emissions. In BituBlock, the bitumen binder replaces the Portland cement.

Structurally superior, BituBlock is gaining commercial interest and the project team, which also includes Dr. Salah Zoorob from the University of Nottingham, expects BituBlock to be market ready in just 3-5 years. Plans are also underway to develop ‘Vegeblock’ using waste vegetable oil.

BituBlock at Leeds Reporter

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16 Comments

  1. kvswathi August 20, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Its alright that it consumes recycled wate. Is it fire resistant than concrete?

  2. skeptic February 12, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    But how are we going to recycle a bitublock eventually?? Are bitublock buildings going to stay forever? Sounds like it would be impossible to recycle. What do we do with it then? Have huge stockpiles of discarded bitublocks like discarded tires?
    I think as appealing as it sounds to recycle rubbish there are some issues with the bitublock’s afterlife. Are we creating something even more toxic?

    Any new material that we invent has to take its own lifespan into consideration and question how we will deal with it once we’re finished with it. Will it biodegrade? Or could it ever be transformed again? Probably not.

  3. honkydory December 2, 2007 at 6:39 am

    We all know that all road paving made using cement concrete for example as the core ingredient in any shape or form, has no future due to the massive CO2 emissions that is emitted in the process of manufacturing cement, cement production accounts to around 7% of the total global CO2 emissions. That’s why this is so appealing especially if it can be used as a wider substitute as a cement building construction material but for it to withstand the required stresses it is not allowed to yield to heat as what Colin is referring to.

  4. honkydory December 2, 2007 at 6:28 am

    You cant just press together any old scrap material and expect it to perform well in a high loading and wearing asphalt road construction.

  5. Colin November 29, 2007 at 5:30 am

    Bitumen road surfacing is normally referred to as flexible surfacing beccause it will move particularly when the bitumen gets hot in the sun. How will this cope with this situation?

  6. Glynn S November 27, 2007 at 5:19 am

    My understanding is that there are incredible high performance issues and hurdles that especially road grade bitumen has to endure to be a vaiable road construction material for paving asphalt roads. And what I know is that Shell (Hell) bitumen has always been regarded as the benchmark (best) bitumen on the market up untill some research and development company from Australia came up with the geo320 bitumen from renewable resources substitute as sighted by Jake. Our planet needs all the help we can now throw at it to fight climate change so all I can say is “here, here” for all the renewable innovators out there.

  7. a.k.a. November 20, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    How can you recycle this? Mixing different types of materials invariably leads to the problem of how to seperate them once you don’t need your product anymore. I’m an architecture student, and we’re cautioned against the use of even conventional dry-wall with additional ingredients such as glass or synthetic fibres.

  8. Nick Simpson November 17, 2007 at 8:43 am

    I must admit, as appealing as it sounds I can see problems. Doesn’t bitumen/asphalt break down (I know it does under UV, hence the need to resurface flat roofs coated in asphalt every 30 years or so). So surely there is some level of breakdown? As for the bitumen, I’m assuming as a binder it only makes up a small amount of the volume, but it’s there…

    Either way, if it can be proven to a) be safe and b) last for at least 100 years, it’s worth looking at. There’s some big moves in the world of concrete, like eco-cement, and the sooner the normal full-fat stuff has gone the better…

  9. BituBlock, hormigón so... November 16, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    [...] Inhabitat Curiosidades, Construcción y vivienda, basura, BituBlock, concreto, desechos, ecológico, [...]

  10. material and product ro... November 16, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    [...] BITUBLOCK: Building blocks made from rubbish… a high-performance product that is about six times stronger than traditional concrete block. It’s made by mixing waste products like recycled glass, metal slag, sewage sludge and incinerator ash with a sticky binder called bitumen, also used in road paving. The mixture is compacted in a mold and heat-cured, which oxidizes and hardens the bitumen. Go read this good post over at Inhabitat [...]

  11. Adam Davidson November 16, 2007 at 10:58 am

    With as much concern that has been held for off-gassing, how was this not mentioned? What type of impact would this material have on the indoor air quality of a home? I understand that one could stucco or cover it with something similar…Skeptical.

  12. dustin November 16, 2007 at 4:24 am

    If it can’t be poured on-site, it’ll never replace concrete entirely. It’s good that people are trying to figure this all out, though.

  13. Jake November 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    The University of Leeds article linked to claims 100% recycled materials, but I didn’t think it was possible to recycle bitumen once used. I DID find this quote from the same Wiki article Carl cited: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitumen

    “Bitumen can now be made from non-petroleum based renewable resources such as sugar, molasses and rice, corn and potato starches. Bitumen can also be made from waste material by fractional distillation of used motor oils, which is sometimes disposed by burning or dumping into land fills” and a link to EcoPave at http://www.ecopave.com.au/

    So I guess that clarification is needed in this case – I couldn’t find any more information on the actual material used in the prototypes.

  14. Colin November 15, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Word Carl. Here in Colorado our gasoline comes from obscene open bitumen pit mines in Canada that are ravaging the natural landscape. There was a recent New Yorker article all about it that is worth a read. So not only are these blocks a toxic mishmash of hydrocarbons, but getting at it is a horrific, destructive process perpetuated by a conscienceless oil industry. How is this sustainable? I am beginning to wonder if the bloggers here are doing their homework.

  15. James November 15, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    SWEET! And what’s key is that it uses a mold, which will allow all kinds of shapes and sizes, like gently rounded blocks for towers and such. molding in holes for use as utility conduits. Could be exciting, now I just need to make it big so that I can be one of the first Americans to rock this stuff.

  16. Carl November 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    I’m not sure this really counts as either sustainable or green. Bitumen is another name for asphalt. The primary source for asphalt is the really thick remnants of crude oil left after the thinner elements are extracted to make gasoline. As we all know, it’s a resource in steady decline. It can be fairly toxic, too, as it can contain high quantities of mercury and other toxic elements. You can look it up in wikipedia easily enough. I’m not sure it’s something I’d want in the walls of my home.

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