Made of reclaimed fibers: an affordable, healthy and sustainable architectural material

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Musera, Nathanael
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Electronic thesis
Architectural sciences
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(Problem) The construction industry has faced the pressing challenge of reducing carbon emissions and improving health outcomes within the built environment. Conventional building materials contribute significantly to carbon emissions, and their production and disposal processes often pose health and environmental risks. Buildings and construction account for 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions, 11% of which stems from the manufacturing of building materials and products. These staggering figures highlight the pressing need to shift towards sustainable building practices in order to mitigate the industry's adverse impact on the environment. To address these concerns, there is a requirement to explore alternative materials that are both sustainable and favorable to human well-being. (Hypothesis) One promising solution lies in utilizing agricultural and cellulosic fiber waste, combined with bio-binders, to develop biocomposite building materials for architectural interiors. Firstly, the use of such materials can lead to reduced carbon emissions in the life cycle of buildings, mitigating the industry's impact on climate change. Secondly, biocomposite materials have the potential to improve indoor air quality, as they do not release as harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) commonly found in traditional materials. This improvement in air quality can have a direct positive impact on the health and well-being of building occupants; as VOCs can have adverse effects on occupant health. Lastly, adopting such sustainable materials can promote economic responsibility by utilizing waste streams and reducing the reliance on resource-intensive manufacturing processes. (Methodology) The methodology employed in this research involves an exploration of bio-binders and different sources of cellulosic fiber waste, including agricultural waste, post-consumer waste, and industrial byproducts before delving into experimentation. The mechanical properties of various fiber types and combinations, as well as different binder and additive formulations, will be evaluated through flexural testing to identify the most viable recipes optimal for strong and stiff materials. Additionally, a comparison of the embodied carbon and other environmental impacts of the new materials with industry-standard materials are conducted to showcase the potential of fiber waste in driving sustainability and health in the building materials industry. (Impact) By investigating the viability and performance of biocomposite building materials derived from agricultural and cellulosic fiber waste, this research aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on sustainable construction practices. The findings will provide insights into the potential of these materials to lower carbon emissions, enhance indoor air quality, and promote economic responsibility within the built environment. Ultimately, by creating a new material that is functional, sustainable, and aesthetically competitive, this research endeavors to inspire designers, architects, and builders to embrace the potential of fiber waste and other underutilized resources in creating healthy and sustainable built environments.
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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