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From Agro-Waste to Sustainable Structures: Concrete Alternatives Made from Sugarcane

Finding effective and valuable solutions for agricultural waste management has been an inspiring challenge for researchers. By-products from monocultures, such as residues from soybean production, corn cobs, straw, sunflower seeds, and cellulose, are often destined for soil composting, used as animal feed, or even converted into energy in order to reduce waste and mitigate the environmental impacts associated with agricultural activities. Sugarcane production, for example, generates a significant amount of by-products, totaling about 600 million tons of bagasse fiber waste from an annual production of two billion tons of sugarcane. This by-product has a promising potential to replace energy-intensive building systems, such as concrete and brick, by providing building materials that combine sustainability and structural efficiency.

With this perspective in mind, the University of East London (UEL), in partnership with Grimshaw Architects and manufacturer Tate & Lyle Sugar, has developed an innovative building material called Sugarcrete™. The aim of the project is to explore sustainable building solutions by recycling biological by-products from sugarcane, which in turn reduces carbon emissions in the construction industry – all while prioritizing social and environmental sustainability during the production and implementation of these building materials.

"The main innovation of Sugarcrete™ is to challenge the established misconception that biomaterials have low structural performance and create a material with enough structural strength to be self-supporting," says Armor Gutierrez Rivas, Senior Architecture Professor. As he explains, "The project began as part of research informed by teaching undertaken as part of the Master of Architecture at the University of East London (UEL), which is concerned with the use of innovative building solutions that address local issues. While working on redevelopment proposals in Silver Town at the Royal Docks, we engaged with the existing industrial fabric of the area and began to look at by-products as building alternatives, including by-products from Tate & Lyle's sugar production. Initial explorations were tested and optimized using our state-of-the-art facilities at the Sustainability Research Institute (SRI) and later implemented as Sugarcrete™ Slab in creative partnership with architects from Grimshaw and engineers from AKT II."

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