New fire-safe building claddings developed using recycled glass

Dilan Robert and Everson Kandare with samples of cladding made mostly from recycled glass.

Engineers from RMIT University have worked alongside materials technology company Livefield to develop new fire-safe building claddings using recycled glass.

The promising circular-economy composite cladding solution was created to be affordable, structurally robust and fire-resistant.

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

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

Robert said their special blend of materials overcame the challenges with glass claddings, which were brittle and prone to fracture, as the plastic binders provided “improved toughness”.

“Experiments have proven that our claddings are fire-safe, water-resistant and cheap, and meet structural and environmentally sustainable requirements,” said Robert from RMIT’s School of Engineering.

The technology, which is now being patented by Livefield, has met the key compliance requirement of claddings for non-combustibility (AS1530.1) set by Standards Australia and has been trialled for large-scale manufacturing capability.

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

“Livefield is keen to upscale the manufacturing process of the recycled class composite cladding, with further research support from RMIT,” Robert added.

A sustainable solution to a big waste challenge

Robert said millions of tonnes of reusable glass goes needlessly into landfill every year, and more glass could be recycled into products in 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,” he 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.”

Making city buildings fire-safe with the circular economy

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

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

The power of collaboration

This successful project is a major collaboration involving 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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