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Rubble left behind by war could help rebuild key infrastructure

Concrete rubble left behind by war and natural disaster could be recycled and used to help rebuild key infrastructure quickly and sustainably, according to new research from the University of Sheffield.

The University of Sheffield researchers have found a way to recycle concrete rubble, into recycled concrete aggregate (RCA), to help rebuild infrastructure in Syria, where a bulk of the research has taken place.

The study shows for the first time that RCA made from the rubble of destroyed buildings in Syria, has the ability to replace up to 50 per cent of the raw materials used to make new concrete, without significantly affecting its performance.

Researchers have been collaborating with Syrian academics for the past four years to find new ways of reusing the excess amounts of rubble left behind by the civil war, with the developed guidelines now having the potential to also help Syria recover from the recent earthquake, as well as support other countries rebuilding from war and natural disasters.

Led by Dr Theodore Hanein and Professor John Provis from the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the study, published in the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, has proven for the first time that recycled concrete aggregate – made from the rubble of destroyed buildings in Syria – can be used as a sustainable alternative to the raw materials in concrete.

Recycling the rubble has the ability to enable faster and more cost- effective rebuilding, as Syria wouldn’t need to import as many raw materials for construction. Additionally, this process would also help to reduce carbon emissions – making the overall rebuilding process more sustainable.

The idea of making concrete from rubble has existed for a while, but this is the first time that a proven technique has been developed for buildings destroyed in war.

As each country uses different materials to construct buildings, the properties of any new concrete produced using recycled rubble must be thoroughly assessed to ensure they meet the standards required for safe and reliable construction, in addition to be being processed properly through methods commonly used in the extractive resources industries.

Speaking on the research undertaken, Hanein identified the need for this alternative process to have come from making rebuilding efforts more accessible for areas impacted by war or natural disasters.

“Sadly, the ongoing civil war in Syria has left more than 130,000 buildings destroyed, and now after the devastating earthquake even more buildings have been damaged or destroyed in northern parts of the country,” Hanein said.

“For the past four years we’ve been working with Syrian academics to find ways of reusing the vast amount of rubble that has been left behind by the war and we have now found a way to recycle it that could help the country recover once it comes to the time of rebuilding.

“One of the big barriers to reusing materials to make new concrete is determining whether the final product will be as strong and reliable as concrete produced in the traditional way. Our paper shows how this can be done in Syria, with the potential to replicate this work around the world.”

The techniques presented in the study have the capability to be used to help the country recover from the devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey in February 2023, and could have far reaching benefits for the wider world in scenarios where concrete ruble is available to be recycled into useable RCA.

The study, Rebuilding Syria from the Rubble: Recycled Concrete Aggregate from War-Destroyed Buildings is published in Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering and can be accessed here.

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