Winners of the 2010 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge, Renuka Prabhakar and Grant Marchelli are engineering graduate students at the University of Washington who have devised a method for making bricks out of recycled glass. The two claim that these bricks are stronger, lighter, and better insulators than conventional bricks on the market today. As an early-stage technology, and Prabhakar and Marchelli need to prove they can manufacture the building product consistently and inexpensively enough to break into the masonry industry.
Inspired by the fact that only 26 percent of the glass waste stream is acutually reused, the two students devised a manufacturing process that utilizes crushed, 100% post-consumer glass, regardless of color and contaminants. A big benefit of the process is that the glass can be cold-worked at temperatures way below the melting point, which results in energy savings of up to 75% over conventional, hot-working techniques. Also, by eliminating the need for sorting and cleaning the glass, the operating costs, equipment requirements, and energy consumption of the manufacturing process are minimized and less glass goes to the landfill.
Their startup company, EnVitrum (Latin for “out of glass”) has drawn interest from UW research funders, brick makers, and architects. Prabhakar and Marchelli are verifying their bricks can meet international standards for building materials and gaining independent verification of their manufacturing process. They hope to license the technology rather than go into the brick-making business themselves.