Aerated wall panels promise cheaper, faster building and better insulation than conventional precast concrete.
A new process for making strong but very light concrete wall panels is expected to usher in a new generation of construction materials. Researchers working in a collaborative venture between CSIRO and Melbourne-based CMR Energy Technologies have developed a process for making cellular aerated-concrete wall panels that are as strong as standard concrete but far lighter, and that also boast improved durability, thermal insulation and cost savings.
|HySSIL would enable builders to reach lock-up in about half the time for brick veneer|
Licensed under the name HySSIL (High-Strength, Structural, Insulative, Lightweight), the wall panels will be targeted at the global housing, building and construction market. The amount spent worldwide each year on the manufacture of wall products alone is estimated at US$125 billion.
HySSIL Pty Ltd holds the worldwide, exclusive licence from the CSIRO for use of the technology for building applications.
HySSIL is considered to have a number of advantages over existing wall building products such as precast concrete, aerated autoclaved products, clay bricks and masonry blocks. The material used for the HySSIL process creates a cellular honeycomb structure inside the panel, compared with normal precast concrete that forms a solid structure using aggregate and stone.
In addition to being half the weight of traditional concrete wall panels, the structure inside the HySSIL panels makes them suitable for both load-bearing and non-load-bearing walls.
The product also has a thermal insulation rating about five times that of normal-weight concrete. It is also fire-resistant, non-porous and has a smooth, weather-resistant surface that can be used as a natural external finish, or painted or rendered.
HySSIL director Colin Knowles says talks have already been held with several large Australian manufacturers, precasters and homebuilders, and discussions have begun to secure sub-licensing agreements with companies in Australia, the US, South-East Asia, New Zealand and China.
HySSIL is undertaking a capital-raising program for up to $4 million to complete the research and development program, including a pilot plant in Melbourne, and to develop a concentrated business development and sales and marketing program. Mr Knowles says this will take another six to nine months to complete.
The HySSIL partners have been working with CSIRO for about four years, with the initial stage of the research leading to the development of lightweight concrete panels of about four square metres. The current research is focused on producing larger panels, up to six metres by three metres.
“The technology at this stage relates to wall panels, but future research will focus on blocks and flooring systems,” Mr Knowles says. “This technology has huge potential. We initially started off thinking that we could not really tackle too much in the brick-veneer housing market. But we’ve carried out more research and spoken to volume home builders and it’s now pretty clear that we can compete with brick veneer.”
Mr Knowles says the HySSIL format enables home builders to reach lock-up in about half the time of a brick-veneer structure.
He says the strategy was always to develop something that was an advance on precast concrete and aerated autoclaved products, and either cheaper or at least the same cost.
“We calculate our structural product is around the same cost, installed, as precast concrete. Our lighter product for non-structural purposes can actually be cheaper than precast.”
He also points out that the lower weight of HySSIL panels leads to other savings, such as reduced building foundation, structure and transport costs.
Mr Knowles says the new product can be produced in any precast concrete factory with minor modifications.