• Tech Tech

Researchers create ultra-strong 'edible concrete' construction material: 'Over three times stronger than concrete'

When tested, this material far exceeded expectations for bending strength.

When tested, this material far exceeded expectations for bending strength.

Photo Credit: University of Tokyo

Construction innovation is absolutely essential to reduce the production of planet-warming pollution. 

According to Princeton University, concrete is the highest-consumed product on Earth aside from water, but it accounts for a whopping 4.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere every year, or 8% of global pollution.

While alternative processes could help — with the firing of limestone and clay in a kiln the major reason for these high levels of pollution — making stronger concrete is important, too, to avoid the need to create more to repair or replace existing buildings.

That's why so-called "edible concrete" is an interesting proposition, not only because it's reportedly four times stronger than traditional concrete, but it also solves an additional problem.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo have been working on concrete derived from food waste. Organic materials like coffee grounds, banana peels, Chinese cabbage, and orange skins are dried and compressed, and the resulting mixture is mixed with water and seasonings and compressed in a high-temperature mold.

When tested, this material far exceeded expectations for bending strength — which is concrete's ability to avoid bending. Incredibly, it also remained edible, with salt or sugar added to the mixture to help improve taste without compromising strength. It also resists rot, fungi, and insects, and taste or strength saw no deterioration after being exposed to air for four months.

"We also found that Chinese cabbage leaves, which produced a material over three times stronger than concrete, could be mixed with the weaker pumpkin-based material to provide effective reinforcement," senior collaborator Kota Machida said in a statement shared by EurekAlert.

So, not only does this process create a stronger form of concrete that can make for more durable buildings, but it also finds a use for food waste, which is another contributor to global pollution. 

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food loss and waste account for a third of all food intended for human consumption. The USDA cited a 2021 report from the Environmental Protection Agency that found the over 187 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution from food loss was about the same as the annual pollution from 42 coal-fired power stations. 

While it's not yet clear if this development will be used in the construction of future buildings, scientists are encouraged by the findings, noting the food-waste material could be used for a number of different applications. 

It just shows what a little bit of lateral thinking can achieve, potentially alleviating two issues in one go in this case.

But you don't need to wait for the adoption of this concrete to prevent more food waste from heading to landfill. Being smarter about how you store food can help it last longer, meaning less fresh produce is thrown out. 

Even if food does start to show signs of degrading, start a compost pile in your yard, which will help reduce the amount of waste that goes to methane-producing trash sites and will provide a nutrient-rich, chemical-free fertilizer to use in your garden later down the line.

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