Plastic and UAE sand are building block of new brick

Backers of Sioplast say the material could revolutionise building in the UAE. The block is made of 70 per cent local sand and 30 per cent unsorted and uncleaned plastic waste.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – June 2, 2011: Siegfried Kreft, COO of Sioplast, left, and Heiko Schroter, CCC of Sioplast, right, gave a demo displaying a new green technology to Ahmed Ibrahim Ahmed, CEO of Hydra, middle.  Sioplast creates a material out of sand and plastic that is 30 percent lighter than concrete as well as stronger.  The material is waterproof, and weatherproof.  ( Andrew Henderson / The National )
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ABU DHABI // Ahmed Ibrahim slams his hammer down on a block of concrete. With one hit, it smashes. Then he turns his attention to a light green block. Two hits. Nothing. Only when he whacks it a third time does the block start to crumble.

The material he is hitting is Sioplast, and Mr Ibrahim, the chief executive of Hydra Trading, said it could revolutionise building in the UAE.

The block is made of 70 per cent local sand and 30 per cent unsorted and uncleaned plastic waste.

Its makers claim it is resistant to oils, acid, salts and alkalis. It is 30 per cent lighter than concrete, does not expand too much in the heat, insulates against heat and cold, is flame-resistant, water-resistant and recyclable and can be drilled and sawn through, welded and glued. And as it is mainly made up of sand, it is cheap - half the price of concrete - and easy to make in the UAE.

It is already being made at factories in the US and Germany, and has been used in the interiors of buildings.

"It will reduce the usage of steel," said Hany el Habrouk, international sales manager for Hydra, which is in partnership with the makers. "Pretty much the most expensive thing in construction is steel."

The material also lasts longer than concrete, according to Albert Fance, a sales manager at the German company that has developed it - also called Sioplast.

"It can live up to 50 years - concrete can only live around 25," he said. "So this would be perfect for buildings by the Corniche.

Also because it is water and humidity resistant, it would make rooms much cooler in the summer, he said.

Using sand in construction in the UAE is hardly new - years ago, many buildings were made of mud bricks. They tended to crumble and needed constant maintenance.

However, some experts were cautious.

Dr Khalid al Sallal, a professor of architectural engineering at UAE University who specialises in sustainable buildings, said there were many questions remaining.

"Buildability - does it require a great deal of training for people [to use]?" he asked. "The market already knows a number of construction methods. When you bring in a new method or new material, is it easy to adapt to? [If the answer is yes] then it may work and succeed."

He had heard companies make similar claims, but their products rarely succeeded here, he said.

"It is very difficult to bring in a new technology, especially green technology. A lot of companies claim this, but sometimes when they test the material, they do not fully test it."

Mr Fance acknowledged that his product had many hurdles to overcome. "It will be hard to accept it at first, but when they speak to us, there will not be a problem," he said. "When people know it, they will love it. No one ever thought sand and plastic could be mixed together."

The material has been a decade in development at the company's laboratories in Germany.

Now that it is ready, the company has turned to the UAE for its ready supply of sand. An Abu Dhabi plant to produce the material was not far off, the company said.

"Sand is everywhere here, it would be very cheap," said Mr Fance. "If the price of plastic remains the same, the price of the material would not go up."