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Cement Made From Food Waste Can Help Fight Climate Change
(Credit: Institute of Industrials Science, The University of Tokyo)
Innovation Sustainability

Cement Made From Food Waste Can Help Fight Climate Change

Imagine if we could solve the issues of food waste and climate change simultaneously with one solution.

Thanks to the idea of a couple of University of Tokyo researchers, that could be possible soon. They’ve developed a way to make cement out of food scraps. The innovative material could be used to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry and the plastics sector.

Food Waste to Battle, Not Contribute to Climate Change

The team’s primary aim is to use the food waste cement to make consumer products like toys and kitchenware like cutlery and crockery. However, they say blocks made through their technique could be used instead of standard cement blocks if coated with a lacquer afterwards for protection.

Strength-wise, it is four times stronger than the cement typically used in construction projects. For example, the bending strength of a material created from Chinese cabbage food waste is four times that of concrete. Therefore, a 5 mm thick plate can support 30 kg of weight.

The team wrote on their website:

“Our final goal is to contribute to the realization of a sustainable society through the study of construction materials, mainly concrete, to develop a sophisticated recycling system, to build long-lasting structures, and to establish a rational maintenance system.”

The technique could have far-reaching effects on the building sector and the battle against climate change. If widely implemented, it can potentially lessen our reliance on conventional cement, which accounts for around 8% of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions.

Furthermore, food waste is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions – the carbon emissions from producing and delivering the food plus the methane emissions generated as the food waste rots in a landfill. This solution would help reduce that problem as well.

The Ramifications of Food Waste Globally

Billions of people worldwide contribute to food waste, even if they don’t waste food; for example, by throwing away banana peels, onion skins, and coffee grounds. And even before fruits and vegetables reach the stores to be purchased, farmers have to throw away the pieces that don’t meet the required quality and appearance. Thus, approximately 1.3 billion metric tons of food become waste every year globally.

The Japanese researchers believe these food scraps are worth a second life. They want to give food waste a purpose through Fabula, their newly-founded company, to commercialize this sustainable construction material.

How Is the Material Made?

The researchers, led by Professor Yuya Sakai, employed a method known as “heat pressing,” commonly used to create construction materials from wood powder. Using dried, powdered food wastes such as seaweed, onion, cabbage leaves, pumpkin, orange, and banana peel, they made sustainable cement with compressive strength equivalent to carbon-intensive Portland cement.

The process is straightforward:

  1. Dry the food waste.
  2. Grind it into powder.
  3. Heat-press it in a mold.

They achieved various colors, textures, and scents by adjusting the drying, powdering, and heat-pressing methods. It is also feasible to combine multiple types of food waste.

Edible Cement

Also, as part of their studies, the team experimented with flavor. They wanted to see if the cement could retain a good taste. So, they vacuum-dried and pulverized the food scraps, blended certain fruits and vegetables with water and spices to produce a paste, then pressed that into molds at high temperatures.

The final product was still (impressively) edible (if boiled!) and tasty. Plus, its flavor and appearance scarcely changed after four months outside!

Additional Advantageous Qualities of Cement Made from Food Scraps

The product is resistant to fungus, rot growth, and insects. In addition, it is biodegradable, so people can plant products made from it in the soil once they have served their purpose.

And while on the subject of improving cement’s sustainability: there’s another recent innovation by researchers in America involving Portland cement. They suggest growing limestone instead of mining it. Their study explains how that is possible. If you’re interested in learning about that, click here to read the article.

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