Fraunhofer Institute

Who says recycling can't be fun?

Since I praised concrete for its beauty and versatility last month, it seems only fair that I deliver the bad news as well. Concrete has a rather poor environmental record: eight to 15 percent of global CO2 emissions can be attributed to concrete production, and when concrete buildings are destroyed, the material is virtually unrecyclable.

Currently, the composite can be what researcher Volker Thome calls "downcycled", meaning crushed into a dusty pile of rubble used as a base for roads or other junk applications. But in this press release from the Fraunhofer Institute (the same German engineering behemoth that invented the world's longest bus), Thome explains that researchers have come up with a way to effectively break down the components.

The method? Blast chunks of concrete with enormous bolts of electricity. You'd think that if lightening made concrete split into its component materials, it wouldn't be the best building material. It turns out there's a trick.

The Fraunhofer researchers worked off a 70-year-old discovery by Russian scientists that dielectric strength (the resistance of a material to electricity) depends on the duration of the shock. Long shocks like lightning bolts travel through water rather than solids, and metal rather than brick. But during very short blasts of electricity, the dielectric strength of water is very high. Higher, in fact, than the bonds of concrete.

Thus, by rapidly shocking a pile of concrete in water, researchers can cause the composite to disintegrate into component parts in a series of small explosions. Currently, Thome and the Concrete Technology Group are able to go through one ton of concrete per hour; they want to do 20. The technology could hit the market as soon as two years from now.

Top image: Fraunhofer Institute.

via Dvice.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A map of apartment searches in the U.S.
    Maps

    Where America’s Renters Want to Move Next

    A new report that tracks apartment searches between U.S. cities reveals the moving aspirations of a certain set of renters.

  2. A rendering of a co-living building in San Jose.
    Life

    The Largest Co-Living Building in the World Is Coming to San Jose

    The startup Starcity plans to build an 800-unit, 18-story “dorm for adults” to help affordably house Silicon Valley’s booming workforce.

  3. A man walks by an abandoned home in Youngstown, Ohio
    Life

    How Some Shrinking Cities Are Still Prospering

    A study finds that some shrinking cities are prosperous areas with smaller, more-educated populations. But they also have greater levels of income inequality.

  4. a photo of yellow vest protesters in Paris, France.
    Equity

    To Understand American Political Anger, Look to ‘Peripheral France’

    French geographer Christophe Guilluy has a controversial diagnosis of working-class resentment in the age of Trump, Brexit, and the Yellow Vests.

  5. a photo of a striking Uber/Lyft driver
    Transportation

    Uber and Lyft Really Don’t Want California to Pass This Worker Rights Bill

    As California considers a gig-work bill to make ride-hailing drivers employees eligible for benefits and bargaining rights, Uber and Lyft ask for compromise.

×