Monday, December 14, 2015

Earthside - Rubble-eating block factory for disaster cleanup

These people have noble aims, but some unfortunate name choices.

The Mobile Factory is a project to build rubble processing and block forming equipment into shipping containers which can be deployed at disaster sites, primarily earthquakes. Local residents whose homes have been destroyed can operate the equipment, bringing in mixed rubble for sorting and processing and then casting construction blocks from the results. The blocks are meant to be used in the construction of earthquake-resistant housing, no mortar or rebar required. (Bamboo serves as vertical reinforcement.)

They have a nice user's guide that manages to express the workflow without words.

Unfortunately their site is very light on details like how exactly we get from fully-set concrete rubble to recast concrete blocks. I recommend the Reuters article about them from summer 2015. They describe their blocks as "shaped just like LEGO", which is a bit like taunting the lawyers at IBM. They also have named the blocks themselves Q-Brixx, a name that appears to describe ruggedized portable testing equipment from Gantner.

All of that aside, this is a project with functioning equipment and a demonstration plot, plus significant industry, NGO and government backing. Evidently their process works.

 I think this is a technology that might (and that's a big might) be applied to block formers intended for Mars or Luna. If done properly, a program under NASA (for example) could take this project's equipment as a starting point then automate and optimize. Equipment would be tested alongside the manual version at actual disaster sites, and the two projects could share information and design refinements.
 The aid project would benefit from additional resources and participation at disaster sites, and may see design improvements as a result. The space agency would be able to start from a working manual design and could make and test changes on Earth in a way that benefits people harmed by disasters. At some point the designs will probably diverge, but if the starting point is equipment that works in and is operated by an earthquake-ravaged community then rugged reliability and simplicity will be built in from the start.

 I only wish I knew more about their process. Perhaps it is as simple as using crushed and graded rubble as aggregate, then adding in new cement to form concrete blocks.

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