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Turning polluted soil into bricks

Dutch designer Emy Bensorp, with her startup Claybens, developed a method to turn PFAS polluted clay soil into clean ceramic materials and products like bricks.

PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals are synthetic chemical compounds that persist in the environment, which is why they are called forever chemicals. The chemicals have been widely used since the 1950s and are found all around the world in soil, water, wildlife and even people.

In 2019, political attention for PFAS shut down the complete building sector of the Netherlands, as Dutch soil contains PFAS in many areas. Starting as a health crisis, it soon turned into a building crisis as well.

During her graduation project, Bensorp designed a solution for the PFAS problem, as well as for the building problem, by using contaminated clay to make bricks. Bricks have to be fired, and PFAS is destroyed at high temperatures. Once heated, the material is clean and ready to use.

In the project, contaminated soil from areas in the Netherlands including Barendrecht, Waddixveen and Schiphol, a PFAS hotspot, were heated to 900 to 1200 degrees Celsius. The resulting bricks show a variety of natural hues. “All that remains of its dirty past is the stamp that states the location of origin and amount of PFAS removed,” Bensorp states.

Other uses for the contaminated clay include tiles, vases, toilet bowls, and many others.

Photos: Emy Bensorp