Illinois State University’s Pranshoo Solanki and his team of students have been awarded a grant by the Environmental Protection Agency for their efforts to make construction materials more sustainable.
A collaborative team of students and staff from ISU’s Department of Health Sciences and Department of Construction Management are working on the project, with the latter leading it.
The EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet grant program funds innovative technology projects, such as Solanki’s, to universities across the nation.
The ISU team received $15,000 to conduct research on a project titled “Recycled Glass as a Substitute for Portland Cement and Fly Ash in Controlled Low-Strength Material.”
“When you make concrete you use cement, right?” Solanki said. “Well Portland cement generates almost 8 percent of carbon dioxide on the Earth so that’s why we came up of this idea of saying, ‘Why not substitute some of the cement with recycled glass?’”
He explained that making cement in a plant creates a large amount of CO2, which is why his team came up with replacing the cement with glass in order to reduce the amount of CO2, while fitting the EPA’s grant criteria.
Solanki’s team is currently studying partial substitution of cement and fly ash with recycled glass in controlled low-strength material, also known as flowable fill.
“We’re trying to use it in a material which is called controlled low-strength material, which is ... mainly used for backfilling trenches, excavations and soil stabilization,” he said.
Fly ash is an industrial byproduct of burning coal in United States thermal power plants. Due to the material not being economical in many parts of the country, many concrete users are searching for an alternative that is both sustainable and economical.
The possibility of using recycled glass powder to offset the use of cement is where the project is focusing its attention.
“Our students are trying to make different cement mixes by replacing some of the cement fly ash with glass. Then we are trying to make some cement samples which will be tested after 13 times of curing and see how strong they are,” Solanki said.
“We’re also testing how well this material flows. It is supposed to flow literally something like water so if you poured that in an excavation you can fill that void and have it fit there,” he said.
He continued to say that in the community, there are blue bins where people can recycle materials such as cans and paper, but glass recycling is much more difficult.
“We have a place here which recycles glass but one of the problems is that they cannot recycle it here, they must ship it to Chicago which costs extra, as well as paying extra for transportation and sorting it by color,” Solanki said.
“Glass is different based on color so we can use that in local construction papers and that’s the good news of it and based on the data which I see, there is a lot of glass and only 27 percent is recycled. The rest is sent to landfills, meaning there’s a lot of room to recycle glass.”
Solanki said that by thinking down the road, the project will make a difference.