Minimise the environmental impact of construction with walls of corn and sunflower stalks

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Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Group on Building Science and Technology (GICITED) of the UPC are taking part in the project Structuring a cross-border construction sector based on corn and sunflower stalks (SAVASCO). The aim of the project is to develop new biological-based materials to minimise the environmental impact of the construction sector. In this framework, the Vallès School of Architecture (ETSAV) has developed a prototype of sustainable building based on corn and sunflower stalks.

Is it possible to build with bioproducts and advance towards a circular economy in this sector?

The construction sector is currently one of the most polluting industries. In fact, 30% of the waste generated in the European Union comes from construction, mostly due to the characteristics of the materials that are used. Insulating materials, for example, are mainly made with raw materials from minerals or petroleum, which have a considerable environmental impact due to extraction and processing, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

In this context, certain agricultural waste, such as corn and sunflower stalks, have physical characteristics that could give construction materials very good performance in terms of thermal insulation and hydrometric regulation, and they are also sustainable. These are biological-based raw materials that have many environmental advantages: they are renewable, local and constitute carbon sinks.

What are the objectives of SAVASCO?

  1. Establish a road map for the sustainable development of the sector, with advances in the development of this type of biological-based material to minimise the environmental impact or the construction sector.
  2. Create a network of collaboration between farmers, construction professionals, laboratories and institutions to structure the sector around innovation in the application of these byproducts.

Move from the laboratory to reality with two live prototypes

The prototype in the SAVASCO project is a building of 5x5 metres, constructed on the basis of corn and sunflower stalks, combined with other materials, which are mainly biopolymers or earth. The building has a light wood structure on which construction formulae have been tested, to demonstrate and maximise the versatility of various combinations of materials.

A second prototype built in the facilities of the University of Toulouse in Tarbes, France, in a different climate zone, will allow a comparison of the hygrothermal behaviour and energy efficiency of the two constructions. The monitoring of materials, which will be carried out over a four-year period, will enable an assessment of environmental, economic and social performance of the products that are developed.

Furthermore, the construction is considered a living research tool, which will evolve over time to host new materials tests, by replacing the closures used in previous research, without the need to dismantle the structure.

Cross-border collaboration

This project is jointly financed by the European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) in the framework of the INTERREG V-A Spain - France - Andorra (POCTEFA 2014-2020) programme. The aim of POCTEFA is to strengthen the economic and social integration of this cross-border area between Spain, France and Andorra.

This is a cross-border project led by the Université Tolouse III Paul Sabatier (Toulouse, France), in which the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya · BarcelonaTech (UPC), the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, the Institut National Polytechnique de Toulouse, the Federació de Cooperatives Agràries de Catalunya (FCAC), the Coopérative d'Artisans Éco-Constructeurs Terre de Bois, the Cooperativa d’Arquitectura Arqbag and the Cooperativa de Treball Associat COECO, in addition to other partners in the construction industry.

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