Can coal waste solve the affordable housing shortage?
Ohio’s affordable housing problem is getting worse, according to data from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.
But a team of researchers at Ohio University is working on a solution.
They’re developing renewable building materials from a resource that’s abundant in southeastern Ohio: coal waste.
“We have all of these mining impoundments throughout Appalachia and they're massive,” said Jason Trembly, the director of OU's Institute of Sustainable Energy and Environment. “Some of them are larger than the Hoover Dam.”
Now, that waste is getting a second life.
Turning coal into housing
Trembly and his team study ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since about 40% of those emissions come from construction and building operations, they focused their energy there.
“We started looking at how to meet [housing] demand in a way that is cost-effective and also environmentally friendly,” Trembly said. “And one of the ways we envision that is building buildings out of carbon.”
“It’s one of the potential methods that we can use to help address climate change and provide high quality, affordable housing for the population as well."Jason Trembly
Essentially, instead of cutting down trees for their lumber and releasing carbon back into the atmosphere, they created an alternative construction material out of coal waste, which naturally stores carbon.
“This is just a prototype,” Trembly said, holding up a piece of black pipe. “This was made from coal waste.”
And that’s just one example of what coal waste can create. His team has developed decking and siding too.
Not only is this material safe and up to code, he said, it’s also cheaper to produce.
“We can provide the end consumer savings on the material itself,” Trembly said, “and we reduce emissions and energy consumed in manufacturing these building materials as well.”
It’s a win-win, Trembly said, but plans for the carbon-storing material don’t stop there.
3D printing affordable housing
Now, the team is working on new research to see if it can be used to 3D print houses.
“We've already demonstrated the ability to 3D print those materials and use them for making different products, potentially even windmill blades,” Trembly said. “But what we're really interested in doing is looking at can we 3D print the walls of a home as well.”
Trembly said 3D printing homes is a desirable way to increase access to affordable housing. Because it requires less labor, they’re cheaper and faster to build.
But, he said most 3D printed homes are currently made with concrete or other cement mixes – an emissions intense material. Their coal waste product is a more energy-efficient alternative.
“It’s one of the potential methods that we can use to help address climate change and provide high quality, affordable housing for the population as well,” Trembly said.