By Michelle Fredrickson, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture intern

PULLMAN, Wash. – Energy-saving walls made from trash will be viewed by as many as 30,000 people next month in Washington, D.C., where Washington State University students will present their TrashWall project at the National Sustainable Design Expo.

They will turn in a written report with more information about the next phase of their project, which will be entered into a funding competition. The expo is part of the National Science Festival.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the students $15,000 to improve their inexpensive wall designs, which the team hopes to market as a consumer product. The students also hope to provide plans for people to build the walls themselves.

Energy efficiency for low-income homes

4-wallTrashWall is a collaborative effort between WSU engineering and architecture students. Guided by Taiji Miyasaka, associate professor of architecture in the School of Design and Construction, and Bob Richards, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the students use trash to create walls that sustain heat and improve energy efficiency.

Current methods for improving energy efficiency cater to the rich, said Richards. But low-income people – who might spend half of a paycheck paying for the winter energy bill – need the improvements most. One student was so shocked by the size of her bill that she turned off her heater in winter – but then her shower froze, he said.

At 10 cents per square foot, TrashWall could be an efficient, affordable alternative.

Creative and practical

The best materials for the walls are paper products like cardboard, egg cartons and magazines, but bottles and soda cans are also used. In constructing the prototypes, students dug through trash to find usable items – taking excess out of the waste stream in addition to making efficient building materials.

5-wallThe students have incorporated fire-resistant materials, including Papercrete tile facing; Papercrete is a combination of paper and concrete. In fire tests, the prototype walls have proved quite fire-resistant.

The walls are crafted creatively, making them works of art that happen to be made from trash.

“When we think about trash, we think about things in the garbage bin,” Miyasaka said. “But paper, when it is sitting on a table, is just paper. When it is thrown into a bin it becomes trash.”