Building from flax waste?

Brest State Technical University now presents technology to allow house construction from flax waste

The adage goes that we should all conserve a tree, raise a son to care for the environment and build a house from renewable materials. Brest State Technical University now presents technology to allow house construction from flax waste, being cheap, as durable as brick or wood, quick to assemble, and environmentally-friendly.

Field of blossoming flax is only the beginning of major processing

Flax can be used to manufacture a range of products, from oil and ‘denim-like’ fabrics, to paper used for making foreign currency. Flax waste is now used to produce fuel, heat insulating tiles, and paper, as well as for growing mushrooms and vegetables. Its latest repurposing is as a construction material, thanks to Brest researchers. They began experimenting with eco-housing about three years ago, wishing to use a material that was ‘inexhaustible’ and organic, while meeting technical requirements for housing, and being kind to the environment. Flax production waste appears to be the answer.

“Researchers have been long working on materials based on organic fillers,” says the Chairman of Brest State Technical University’s Department for Concrete and Construction Materials Technology. With a PhD in technical sciences, Professor Victor Tur knows his field. He tells us that shives, sawdust and straw aren’t suitable, preventing cement from hardening. Making a building material that was durable and energy-efficient was a challenge but, after a year of tests and trials, researchers found that organic linden had the potential to reach cement-like firmness.

Scientists wish to maximise the potential of flax

“Linden hardens as a result of carbonisation, i.e. absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment,” notes Alexander Pikula, a senior teacher at Brest State Technical University’s Department for Concrete and Construction Materials Technology. He explains that, under natural conditions, this slow process can take years but can be accelerated by exposure to heat or pressure (although applying these conditions raises costs). However, cheap mineral additions can modify the cohesive elements and create strong chemical compounds.

University research lab employees say that this solution is completely innovative globally and is now ready for mass production, having undergone laboratory tests. Manufacturing instructions are in place, with properties (from hardness to thermophysical characteristics) revealing that the material can rival bricks and wood. As for construction, Brest researchers say it can be used to fill cavities in wooden structures or that regular shaped units can be manufactured.

‘Flax’ construction material
Tatiana Shalobyta, an associate professor at BSTU’s Department for Concrete and Construction Materials, says, “Flax construction materials cannot replace industrially produced bricks and technologies used in mass housing construction but they are good for individual projects, being ecologically friendly, and energy-efficient, representing a good solution for waste disposal.”

Victor Tur adds, “What’s nice about this technology is that you can use it easily for self-build projects. We can provide all the technological instructions.” Early in the 20th century, many rural houses were built using this principle, mixing flax shives with clay and straw. Walls would be protected from rain and sun exposure using a plaster mix of clay, lime and sand. The only trouble was that hens would peck out the lime and sand in the lower part of buildings.

There is nothing new under the sun, as they say. I dare to modestly adjust this statement to say that there is nothing new under the sun that cannot be scientifically improved upon.

Expert opinion

Nikolay Zhogal, the Director of Pruzhany Flax-Processing Plant, comments, “Our company processes 10,000 tonnes of flax a year, with half that of shives. At present, the waste is widely used in farming. Production of construction materials using flax shives is quite interesting. However, the technology is new so, before launching production at our enterprise, we need to conduct market studies.”

By Anna Petrochenko
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