RMIT reaches sky-high results with recycled glass claddings

Recycled glass claddings

Engineers have developed new fire-safe building claddings using recycled glass, creating a circular-economy solution to address a major waste stream.

The RMIT University team worked with materials technology company Livefield to produce the composite cladding, which they say is cheap, structurally sound, and fire-resistant.

The non-combustible claddings use 83 per cent recycled glass, along with low amounts of plastic binders and fire-retardant additives.

Associate Professor Dilan Robert, Lead Researcher, said using recovered glass waste as an alternative cladding material could one day help reduce the amount of glass that goes to landfill.

Globally, about 130 million tonnes of glass are produced each year, but only 21 per cent of that is recycled glass.

Robert said the blend of materials has overcome the challenge with glass claddings, which were brittle and prone to fracture. The plastic binders provided “improved toughness”.

“Experiments have proven that our claddings are fire-safe, water-resistant, cheap, and meet structural and environmentally sustainable requirements,” Robert said.

The technology, which is now being patented by Livefield, has been trialled for large-scale manufacturing capability.

Panels using the team’s technology are installed at RMIT’s Bundoora, Victoria, campus to demonstrate the technology’s feasibility as building claddings.

A sustainable solution

Robert said millions of tonnes of reusable glass go needlessly into landfill every year, but more could be recycled within the construction industry.

“Glass is one of the most recyclable materials in the world as it doesn’t lose its quality or purity, and it can be recycled for multiple uses across a wide range of industries,” Robert said.

“By using high amounts of recycled glass in building claddings, while ensuring they meet fire safety and other standards, we are helping to find a solution to the very real waste challenge.

“Reuse of glass that would otherwise go to landfill will bring environmental, economic and social benefits.”

Fire-safe city buildings

Robert said testing of the new cladding materials for fire safety was an important focus of the research.

“Claddings play a key role in preventing the spread of fire, particularly in high-rise buildings,” Robert said.

“Some of the most catastrophic building fires, like the 2017 Grenfell tower fire in London that led to many deaths and injuries, have been attributed to the poor fire-prevention performance of cladding materials.”

Robert said these events highlighted the importance of understanding and designing fire-resistant cladding materials for the building and construction sector.

The power of collaboration

The collaboration involves RMIT, Cooperative Research Centres Projects grants, the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Transformation of Reclaimed Waste Resources to Engineered Materials and Solutions for a Circular Economy (TREMS), Sustainability Victoria and other industry support.

Robert led the project with support from RMIT colleagues Dr Edwin Baez, Associate Professor Everson Kandare, Professor Sujeeva Setunge and Professor Kevin Zhang.

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