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Biomass ashes - an idea for ecological construction

Picture of Piotr Prochoń, PhD

Piotr Prochoń, PhD

Cement production accounts for 6 to 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Researchers are looking for alternative building materials that could limit it. Piotr Prochoń, PhD, from the Warsaw University of Technology analyses the possibility of using biomass ashes.

The WUT researcher started working on biomass ashes during his PhD and it was a double PhD. He was awarded his degree by the Warsaw University of Technology and Belgian L'Université De Liège, where he completed three-years of doctoral study.

– I deal with building engineering, so generally understood civil engineering. I am interested in mineral binders which may be used to create building materials, prefabricates. In my research I concentrate on alternative materials, based on waste products or recycling – says Piotr Prochoń, PhD.

Alternative applications

So far biomass ashes, i.e., ashes obtained in the process of burning agricultural or wood waste, were mainly used in agriculture as soil fertilisers. The researcher from the WUT Faculty of Civil Engineering wants to check the potential of their application in the production of building binders.

– I would mainly like to see whether biomass ashes can be used as a foundation material to create alternative binders, whether mixing biomass ashes with conventional ash will produce a new ecological material with upgraded physical and mechanical properties – explains Piotr Prochoń, PhD.

Another important issue is the impact of the addition of biomass on a given building material – will it, for example, make the microstructure tighter or maybe it will prolong or speed up the binding time.

Control the ashes

A challenge for the researchers is lack of stable composition of the ashes. Each time the biomass differs in its composition, so after burning different chemical compositions are formed.

– This exactly needs to be controlled to ensure production standards. A given biomass, after appropriate selection and burning, should meet the same requirements all the time – stresses Piotr Prochoń, PhD.

Piotr Prochoń, PhD, hopes to obtain a cement-free material with low carbon footprint, as well as high heat resistance and protective properties.  

Building materials, protective materials and maybe even space materials

In civil engineering biomass ashes could be used, for instance, as a component of fast setting mortars, mortars, for production of prefabricate elements or shields against electromagnetic radiation in data warehouses.

Another field of application is medicine. Protective mortars made of biomass ashes could be used in radiotherapy and X-ray tomography rooms. In contrast to currently used materials they do not contain lead, which makes them much easier to dispose of.

And what if we started dreaming? - We go to space, so maybe we can use alternative binders to build constructions on Mars. The soil present there has a similar composition to the studied ashes – says Piotr Prochoń, PhD.

The GeoShield project, i.e., ”Sustainable materials – alkali activated mortars – for special protective application in civil engineering” is carried out by: Piotr Prochoń, PhD, Maja Kępniak, PhD and Kamil Załęgowski, PhD, from the WUT Faculty of Civil Engineering.

It received funding from the National Centre for Research and Development in the competition ”Lider XI” and is planned until July 2024.