De La Salle UniversityWill houses of the future be made of waste?

Will houses of the future be made of waste?

Top faculty researcher Dr. Michael Angelo Promentilla leads a DLSU team that is developing geopolymer cement, an eco-friendly and inexpensive substitute to conventional cement. His vision can shape the future of the local construction industry and the way we protect the Earth.

If there is someone who could imagine the potential of industrial wastes from thermal power plants or rice hull ashes from farms across the country, then it would certainly be De La Salle University’s Chemical Engineering professor, Dr. Michael Angelo Promentilla.

Responding to the global call towards a “low-carbon circular economy and sustainability”, Promentilla embarked on the development of a construction material that would be an alternative to the conventional cement—the geopolymer.

“Geopolymer products like ‘green’ cement have the potential to significantly reduce our carbon footprint and energy consumption. It uses coal fly ash instead of the traditional limestone, which when manufactured emits carbon dioxide and consumes more energy,” he says. He adds that the traditional concrete produces as much as 80% more carbon footprint as compared to that of geopolymer.

Promentilla’s research on coal ash utilization and geopolymer technology, which he started in 2013 when he received a seed grant from the National Academy for Science and Technology, is a response to the environmental threats that come from the rapid growth of urban and industrial areas in the country.

“Every year, the country generates around three million metric tons of coal fly ash, or CFA, which is a by-product of thermal power plants,” he says, pointing out that the accumulation and improper disposal of CFA to vast land areas could result in soil degradation and risks to human health and the environment.

At the same time, he shares that his research has led him to look into the agricultural sector, which produces a large amount of rice hull and waste abaca fibers—abundant, natural, raw materials often discarded but which he often thought could have a role in reinforcing the geopolymer matrix.

His research proposes that the raw materials and mix design of the geopolymer cement be environmentally sustainable and financially viable, as well as locally available.

Heat and acid-proof product“By upcycling coal fly ash, we can produce ‘green’ materials or infrastructure materials with lower carbon footprint,” he says. He also reveals that the DLSU team he leads—the Geopolymers and Advanced Materials Engineering Research for Sustainability (G.A.M.E.R.S.) Lab—at DLSU is currently collaborating with Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) and Central Mindanao University (CMU) researchers to study the possibility of using mining waste.

Their research currently explores three applications of geopolymer: one is a fire-resistant building material; another is an acid-resistant material; and the last, a geopolymer reinforced by chemically-treated waste abaca fiber.

“My vision is to commercialize the product and use the material, especially for government mass housing projects,” he shares. It may be realized in five or 10 years, he says. For now, the complex work continues for the G.A.M.E.R.S. Lab as the team seeks to make their geopolymer product fully viable for construction, and thus bring new life to the country’s wastes and ashes.

France-based Geopolymer Institute recognizes De La Salle University as the only university in the Philippines to do a comprehensive study on geopolymer science and technology. The multidisciplinary G.A.M.E.R.S. Lab at DLSU is working in partnership with Tokyo Institute of Technology, the Ho Chin Minh University of Technology, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) and Central Mindanao University (CMU).

Potential uses of geopolymer-based products

  • Geopolymer cement for construction, particularly for mass housing
  • Soil stabilizer using a solidification technique to trap heavy metals
  • Water treatment beads or composites to purify water

Dr. Michael Angelo Promentilla is a faculty member of the DLSU Chemical Engineering Department and ASEAN  Science Diplomat from the Philippines. He has won various scientific awards from national and international bodies  such as the National Academy of Science and Technology, Commission on Higher Education, National Research  Council of the Philippines, and the Japan Concrete Institute.

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