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Materials Technology

The house that bio-based built: growing African construction

African_Farm.pngAfrican Farm., Bio-Based World NewsAn unparalled new initiative is driving a bio-based social change that could see the African building industry completely revolutionised over the next decade and a generation employed in new industry.

A brave team of researchers may have found a way to change the way that African markets access building materials and, in the process, promote positive social change. Their bio-based solution has the additional benefit of promising to lower global carbon emissions and promote sustainable construction techniques in the African context.

As if this wasnt impressive enough, these innovators are taking their new bio-based process to a country with some of the highest rates of youth homelessness, joblessness and housing shortages in the world to solve these specific social issues with the solution’s practical application.

So what could be behind all of this positive change?

The African issue

Africa has the highest concentration of young people in this world. Young people across the continent contend with high rates of unemployment and a shortage of affordable housing, staples of stable living conditions.

Over half of all 18-35 year olds across Africa are unemployed leaving them vulnerable to housing poverty. The probem is keenly felt in Kenya where a staggering 70% of the young population Almost 10million people are listed as unemployed. 43.4% of the Kenyan population also lives below the poverty line and suffers keenly from employment and housing shortages.

This youth epidemic is a problem that the Kenyan government is determined to solve in a bid to bring the younger generation into employment and the subsequent financial security that their older counterparts comparably benefit from.

The solution

Africa Rice Crop, Bio-Based World NewsTo reduce these stark statistics, a team of researchers and community workers called the Pamoja Projects has put their heads together and founded a new inititiative called Pamoja Housing @PamojaHousing. The project was established specifically with the aim to revolutionise housing and construction value-chains with bio-based solutions. Pamoja Housing was co-founded by two forward-thinking engineering students from the Hogeschool van Amsterdam @HvA in co-operation with the Pamoja Projects Foundation. In January 2015, Anton Teeuw and Jasper Rabenort launched this innovative investigation exploring whether it is possible to develop a 100% bio-based building material.

The teams initial key question was; What kind of material should be designed to contribute to the development of sustainable and quality housing in Kenya? Pamoja Housing looked at the social problems mentioned above and provided a sustainable answer and innovative solution to these hardships.Corn, Bio-Based World News

The project’s proposed solution was the creation of 100% bio-based plate materials that can be easily and widely used across African building networks. The carefully researched and designed material sheet is developed from cheap and renewable sources; the residual waste that is a by-product of agricultural farming.

The sheet itself is created with the fibrous plants that are a residual product from agricultural harvesting, an inexhaustible source of raw materials. This process uses waste from popularly farmed crops found across Kenya, particularly corn and rice crops.

The concept, see figure, is as follows:

Source: Pamoja Housing, Bio-Based World NewsIn Kenya, maize is the most cultivated crop. Every year, approximately 2.7 million tonnes of corn is harvested domestically – This provides an enormous amount of fibrous plant material with no present application, otherwise left to waste. Currently, farmers usually burn the plant residues in the fields, a waste of the highly fibrous bio-based material. The Pamoja teams investigation has shown that this fibre-rich corn straw can be harnessed by collecting, drying and pressing it into a sheet material. By pressing the corn straw with a binder at a high temperature, a fibrous plate develops which is similar in its properties and stability to MDF or OSB – Materials widely favoured in the construction industry.

By using waste materials, the bio-based solution is impressively low-cost, local and sustainable as a long-term source of building materials to meet house-building goals in Africa.

Improving social issues with bio-based futures

Africa Rice Crops, Bio-Based World NewsThe production of bio-based sheet materials from plant residue means that building material production can be enacted locally in farming regions where the plants are directly collected and processed for oil.

This local initiative not only creates jobs in a country plagued by youth joblesness, importantly, it also creates jobs in those rural communities most effected by youth unemployment and limited access to industry. By creating local jobs, the Pamoja Project is helping to stem the wider mass migration of people from rural communities seeking better employment prospects into urban areas. Such migration of people has seen a sharp growth of slums in Kenyan cities as people leave their local communities to provide for their families. By producing this bio-based material, communities could flourish and retain their local co-dependence.

Those producing the sheets can also sell the building material to a wider range of industries, as the boards themsleves are milled into ready-made kits or so-called mock-up systems ready for suppliers. These mock-up kits may be in the form of furniture, as well as housing materials; the applications of bio-based sheets are endless and this is why the project is so critical to the communities it works to empower in regards to long-term, sustainable growth.

The fibre-rich bio-based materials provide the end-user with cheap and sustainable housing, stimulating employment in both staffing for the building material production and in the housing construction itself.

With global concerns surrounding ever-increasing CO2 emission rates and the damaging environmental impact of unsustainable building materials, this solution is a welcome disrupter for traditional building material production. With a limited deposit of fossil fuels, sustainable energy use is increasingly favoured in material processes.

This brilliant solution from the Pamoja Project & Housing teams has truly remarkable implications. The bio-material is not only a cheap and reliable source for housing, it is also revolutionary to fiscal, social and sustainable goals within Kenya where it is being trialled. The implications for wider African and global networks is clear as this project gathers pace and we can expect great things from this project in the future.

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