When you mash green jobs together with affordable housing and recycled plastic, something interesting is bound to happen, and it’s happening in Wales. The Welsh company Affresol has launched a line of low cost homes and modular buildings that use recycled plastic as a core structural material. Affresol plans to market some of its product as homes that can fulfill community affordable housing needs while creating new green jobs in recycling.
Affresol’s primary innovation is Thermo Poly Rock, a material composed mainly of recycled mixed plastics, which pours and sets like concrete. According to Affresol, Thermo Poly Rock has a number of advantages over concrete, but its main contribution could be a sustainable approach to housing in which homes are built on a semi-temporary basis with life cycle in mind.
Affresol and Recycled Plastic
According to a recent story in the Daily Mail, the plastic from about 9,000 recycled televisions or 7,200 computers is what it takes to build a three-bedroom house framed with Thermo Poly Rock. That’s about 18 tonnes of recycled plastic (a tonne is 1,ooo kilograms and a U.S. ton is 909 kilograms). Thermo Poly Rock is a thermoset polymer, which is a liquid plastic that sets in a permanent rigid state after processing. Affrasol claims that the product is stronger than concrete with better flex and tensile properties. Its recyclability is not so obvious at first glance because thermoset polymers typically cannot be melted down again and reformed into a new shape (for this reason thermosets were generally considered non-recyclable), but it’s possible that thermoset polymers can be recycled in granulated form and combined with other materials to manufacture a durable new product (something similar is going on in tire recycling).
Affordable Housing and Recyclable Homes
Affrasol claims that Thermo Poly Rock has a lifespan of up to 80 years, which is rather interesting considering that one usually thinks of a house as something that lasts indefinitely. However, relatively young houses, subdivisions and whole neighborhoods are routinely knocked down for one reason or another, and much of the construction material currently goes to landfills. In terms of affordable housing, Affrasol’s approach could help communities or property owners reclaim value from these buildings (and avoid landfill fees) once they near the end of their lifespan.
Affordable Housing and Solar Power
Affrasol estimates that it can build at 12% less than standard and it is focused squarely on the affordable housing market. That puts it in synch with a trend toward lowering the cost of affordable housing by incorporating sustainable concepts into the design. Some cities are already starting to combine solar energy and affordable housing. Affrasol’s design specifically anticipates that the exterior walls of the homes will be finished in some way, including cladding. That provides a perfect opening for building integrated solar energy, which could help defray costs. Under certain conditions a built-in solar array may even provide a source of income to the community or property owner. At least one company is specializing in modular solar cladding for buildings, a concept that could also help lower construction costs, and low cost hybrid solar energy and hot water systems are also on the horizon.
Image: Monopoly plastic houses by woodleywonderworks on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.