Bird nest inspires engineers to build new bricks from plastic waste

Bird nest inspires engineers to build new bricks from plastic waste

December 3, 2019
Lloyd Fuller

A new brick made from domestic plastic waste has been proven to provide 10 times better insulation than traditional bricks made from clay

Dr Karthikeyan Kandan, senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), UK, has created a novel brick made entirely from upcycled plastic waste.

Believed to be the first of its kind, the brick is constructed using 3D printing and lattice architecture technologies, which involves criss-crossing strips of the plastic materials to form a grid or weave.

The design is inspired by nature, after Kandan examined the structure of the Baya weaver bird’s nest, which is renowned for its elaborately woven construction.

“The Baya weaver bird’s nest’s ingenious construction gives it excellent thermal insulation and mechanical properties for inhabitation,” Kandan suggested. “Inside there is a central nesting chamber, which makes it the ideal microclimate for inhabitation. By replicating this structure, we have manufactured a brick that improves energy efficiency of modern buildings and therefore can reduce carbon footprint.”

Saad Alqahtani, a first-year PhD student at DMU, carried out controlled experiments on the plastic bricks, under joint supervision from Dr Kandan and Dr Farukh – the latter also a senior lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the university.

To test its thermal insulation characteristics, Saad placed the brick in a hot-box calorimeter – a piece of equipment used to measure the U-value of an object, which can be set up to simulate the regulatory standard for buildings.

U-value is a measure of the flow of heat through an insulating or building material – the lower the U-value, the better the insulating ability.

The results showed the new design delivered an impressive U-value of 0.25W/m²K. This is 10 times more effective than a clay brick, which delivers an average of 2.94 W/m²K.

Traditionally, a range of building blocks are required to achieve the regulatory standard U-value, however the newly designed plastic brick can achieve this on its own.

“Our brick, made from all kinds of domestic plastic waste – from coffee cup lids to plastic bottles – exhibits a tremendous thermal envelope over conventional building materials,” continued Kandan.

A building envelope refers to the exterior elements that protect the property and its inhabitants from the elements and also contributes to keeping the building structurally sound.

“This provides significant potential to not only improve the energy efficiency of modern building, but also to conserve space and reduce dead-weight in multi-story buildings,” Kandan noted.

Saad, who received a PhD scholarship from DMU to complete this work with Dr Kandan and Dr Farukh, said their brick could lead to a new era of energy-efficient construction while tackling the issue of plastic pollution at the same time.

“Our work has demonstrated that 3D printed bricks made from household plastic waste are thermally far superior than the existing bricks made in the market,” he explained. “This breakthrough can literally help us build the future.”

This project marks the second time this year that Dr Kandan has been recognized for his work to repurpose plastic waste. In August 2019, he made headlines when he created a prosthetic limb socket made from recycled plastic water bottles for amputee patients.

Saad, who also completed his MSc at DMU, was invited to showcase their work at the prestigious 39th International Workshop on Computational Mechanics of Materials in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in September.

“It was a great opportunity to meet industry experts and tell people about our work,” Saad said. “The next step is to get the brick into commercial production, which we hope to do by the end of the year.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 will take place at Cologne Messe, Germany, on Tuesday 16 June and Wednesday 17 June. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email


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