Researchers Find Method for Recycling Rubble, Rebuilding Haiti

A year following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a method to recycle rubble into a strong construction material, which could be a possible solution for safely and inexpensively rebuilding Haiti’s structures.

Kimberly Kurtis
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Kimberly Kurtis, associate professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. 

Georgia Tech Professors Reginald DesRoches and Kimberly E. Kurtis from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), along with CEE graduate students Joshua J. Gresham and Brett Holland, say the concrete is made from recycled rubble and indigenous raw materials using simple techniques. And it meets or exceeds the minimum strength standards defined by the American Concrete Institute and used in the U.S.

This new method for developing concrete could be a sustainable strategy for clearing the “logjam that is blocking reconstruction,” the Georgia Tech research team said in the article “Breaking the reconstruction logjam: Progress through rubble reuse” that appears in this month’s Bulletin of the American Ceramic Society.

“The commodious piles of concrete rubble and construction debris form huge impediments to reconstruction and are often contaminated,” said DesRoches, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech. “There are political and economic dilemmas as well, but we have found we can turn one of the dilemmas – the rubble and debris – into a solution via some fairly simple methods of recycling it into new concrete.”

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, caused an estimated 300,000 deaths and collapsed more than 300,000 homes and 30,000 businesses. A year later, many of the damaged areas remain covered with a vast amount of debris, estimated to be about 20 million cubic yards.

Born in Haiti, DesRoches traveled to Port-au-Prince eight times last year to collect samples of typical concrete rubble and available sand types that could be used in concrete preparation. He and his colleagues at Georgia Tech made concrete samples from the collected materials.

“Based upon these results, we now believe that Haitian concrete debris, even of inferior quality, can be effectively used as recycled coarse aggregate in new construction,” said Kurtis, Georgia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It can work effectively, even if mixed by hand. One key is having a consistent mix of materials that can be easily measured.”

DesRoches said recycling the debris eliminates two hurdles to reconstruction – limited landfill space for storing the debris and fiscal challenges of importing new building materials.

The Tech research team plans to share their research with Haitian government officials and non-governmental organizations working on reconstruction projects. 

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