Concrete goes green at JCU Engineering School

In a first for Australia, James Cook University engineers have swapped steel reinforcing for plastic waste and look set to drastically reduce the environmental cost of concrete.

JCU Engineering School
Study at James Cook University, Queensland

JCU Engineering School Dr Rabin Tuladhar found that short pieces of recycled plastic can be added as reinforcement in concrete, removing the need for steel mesh in concrete footpaths and precast elements such as drainage pits and concrete sleepers.

He said that the use of recycled plastic waste in concrete makes a huge difference towards making it more environmentally friendly.

“Using recycled plastic, we were able to get more than a 90 percent saving on CO2 emissions and fossil fuel usage compared to using the traditional steel mesh reinforcing. The recycled plastic also has obvious environmental advantages over using virgin plastic fibres.”

Dr Tuladhar’s team has conducted successful strength and durability tests on the precast concrete elements made with the recycled plastic fibres. Talks are now underway with concrete producers and local and federal governments on how to employ the new findings.

Dr Tuladhar’s work is focused making concrete production more sustainable. It includes other aspects such as replacement of natural sand with 100 percent crusher dust, a by-product of stone quarries, and the replacement of cement with up to 30 percent mining waste.

Concrete facts:
  • Concrete is the second most-used material on earth, second only to water.
  • More than 25 million cubic meters of concrete are poured annually in Australia.
  • Production of cement, a key ingredient of concrete, produces 900kg of CO2 for every ton of cement and is responsible for 5% of total annual global CO2 production.
  • The total consumption of polypropylene – the kind of plastic used in Dr Tuladhar’s tests – was around 220,000t in 2013 in Australia, from which only 21% was recycled.

About the JCU Engineering School

The JCU School of Engineering and Physical Sciences combines a highly qualified faculty, with comprehensive undergraduate and graduate program offerings making it the premier choice for the region’s school leavers and non-school leavers keen to embark on a career in the dynamic field of engineering, mathematics or physics.

The JCU Engineering School comprehensive teaching laboratory facilities provide valuable hands-on experience in five core engineering specialisations (Chemical, Civil, Computer Systems Engineering, Electrical and Electronic and Mechanical).

The school is proud of its high rankings according to the most recent (2012) Good Universities Australia findings, where JCU’s Engineering Graduate employment rate is 92%, second highest in QLD and well above the 80% national average. Additionally JCU engineering graduates are obtaining the second highest average starting salaries in the state.

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