Building with Sea Salt in the Desert

Recent TU Delft architecture graduate Eric Geboers has developed a way of separating salt out of seawater in order to create a new type of building material – along with water that can be used for irrigation. Geboers believes the technology could be useful in desert areas, particularly as many deserts are situated in fairly close proximity to coastal regions.

Geboers says his new salt-based building bricks are made from a mixture of sea salt and starch. The salt sticks to the starch and is extracted by algae grown in the seawater. When tested for tensile and compressive strength, the bricks proved to be stronger in compression than rammed earth – a material often used in desert construction.

But much like rammed earth or concrete, this material is strong in compression but not in tension. Geboers explains that it is therefore attractive for use in making the vaults and arches that are common in traditional desert architecture. Furthermore, the presence of sea salt gives the material a distinctive translucency, along with a brilliant white colour that reflects light.

For the sealing of this material, Geboers uses hard epoxy in order to make the material water-resistant. He is however looking for a more sustainable material alternative to the use of this plastic.

Geboers has recently won many awards for this work like the Challenge Stad van de Toekomst (City of the Future Challenge) and Singepore’s “The Science of Future Cities” competitionand, and is selected for the nomination for the Archiprix 2016 (prize for the best thesis in architecture in the Netherlands). Resulting prize money is allowing him to carry the work forward and he has been refining his ideas for a year. He has created a scale model as well as a design for a future desert town.

Geboers is currently searching for a team of engineers to collaborate with – along with a small place to build a sea salt pavilion!