A WSU project to make novel building materials from construction waste is continuing to gain traction with a commercialization grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The two-year grant will support development of a market-ready, non-structural prototype of the building materials for interior applications. The underlying technology was developed by the WSU researchers in 2017 as a way to reduce waste, create affordable building materials and lower housing costs.

The WSU team, which includes Taiji Miyasaka, professor, and David Drake, scholarly assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, will work with DTG Recycle, the Pacific Northwest’s largest recycler of construction waste, on building a full-scale wall assembly to demonstrate the viability of the building materials in real-world applications.

Drywall waste cylinder

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of the late Melvin J. (Jack) Murdock, provides grants to nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest that seek to strengthen the region’s educational, social, spiritual, and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways, according to their website.

Drywall, also known as gypsum board or sheetrock, is a common, inexpensive building material prized for its fire-proofing qualities and ease of installation. The four-by-eight-foot sheets are cut to size on construction sites, resulting in between 10 and 12% of the material being discarded. Ten million tons of the material is dumped into U.S. landfills each year, making up about 9% of all construction waste. Soil bacteria decompose the gypsum when it’s put into landfills, which produces a noxious gas. Some cities have banned it from landfills.

Miyasaka and Drake developed a unique process that pulverizes the drywall scrap and turns it into a useable building material. The waste is mixed with water and carbon-neutral binders and pressed into building blocks using a low-energy compaction process. The blocks can be made on-site using portable machines or off-site using existing machinery at conventional masonry plants and can use up to 90% of the drywall waste.

The blocks are durable, fireproof and weigh half as much as conventional concrete blocks. They also provide ten times more insulation value than traditional conventional concrete blocks and could be cast in various colors and shapes for tiles, panels and pavers.

Taiji Miyasaka

In addition to receiving the Murdock grant, the WSU researchers are one of five finalists in the upcoming International Sustainable Chemistry Collaborative Centre’s Innovation Challenge in Sustainable Building, where they have been selected to pitch their project at an Investor Forum later this month.

David Drake

Last year, the project also won a Research and Development Award from Architect magazine. The team has received funding from the American Institute of Architects’ Upjohn Research Initiative Grant, the WSU Commercialization Gap Fund, an Amazon Catalyst Grant, and the National Science Foundation Innovation-Corps program.