Best of 2018: a more sustainable alternative to concrete made from desert sand

Originally published on 28 March

Sand is worldwide in high demand and heavily used in many industries, especially construction. With deserts full of it, one can easily be fooled into thinking that sand is an almost infinite resource. However, desert sand has little use; the grains are too smooth and fine to bind together, so it is not suitable for the making of for instance concrete. The start-up Finite, founded by researchers from Imperial College London, created a material composite made with desert sand that serves as a more sustainable alternative to concrete.

The supply of construction-grade sand is dwindling worldwide. This type of sand is stripped from beaches and riverbeds, but because of the heavy use, the supply is diminishing rapidly. Desert sand, on the other hand, is plentiful. This sand is not used in construction, as its grains are too smooth and fine to bind together for building materials.

The newly developed composite makes use of desert sand and “other abundant fine powders that traditionally have no use”. According to the inventors, Finite can be turned into structures that have the same strength as housing bricks and residential concrete.

The material is more environmentally friendly than concrete, with a concrete footprint that is less than half that of concrete. Unlike concrete, which must be either downcycled or sent to the landfill at the end of its life, the new material can easily be reused as it can be remoulded for multiple lifecycle uses. The material can be coloured using natural dyes.

Finite can be used in desert areas, made with local sand rather than imported concrete. For now, the material is only suitable for temporary constructions, after which the material can be reused or left to decompose. For permanent structures, the material still has to pass rounds of testing and regulations.

The team is currently developing Finite to bring it to market.

For other projects using ‘common’ sand to make materials, click here and here.

Photos: Finite