Martha Poisot, who is developing sustainable building materialsBetter than concrete: the low-cost hybrid building material made from industrial waste

Martha Poisot, a Mexican Leaders in Innovation Fellowships (LIF) fellow is developing a low-cost hybrid building material made from industrial waste, which is more resistant than concrete. 

In 2016, RAEng invited her to submit a film about her team's innovation to the Newton Fund Video Competition. Here she talks about the publicity they gained and the impact on her business from winning.

 

What is your innovation and what sustainable development goals does it address?

My focus is on creating affordable building material composites from industrial waste. My innovation addresses several SDGs, including goal 11: sustainable cities and communities, and goal 12: responsible consumption and production. 

 

Can you tell us more about the material you’ve developed?

Martha working on her alternative concrete material

There are several exciting aspects of our process. First, the hybrid composite material is produced from raw materials obtained from the local area, so the process can be replicated all over the world. Secondly, the raw materials themselves are renewables, as they don’t come from fossil fuel-based sources. Finally, the production method is not only eco-friendly and cost-effective, but also safe for the user, unlike similar processes used today which can be dangerous.

We’ve tested the final material for use as a building panel. It is water-proof, more resistant than concrete, and has superior thermal insulation performance, insulating ten times better than concrete. Producing our composite takes only 20% of the water required for manufacturing concrete, and produces fewer CO2 emissions.

 

What inspired your research?

I saw a need to add value to the by-products of the local paper recycling and sugar cane mills, and to try to avoid more waste accumulation in landfill sites. Waste management infrastructure in Mexico is lacking and a high percentage of waste ends up in illegal dump sites, rivers and forests.

 

A machine tests the strength of the materialWhat were your main takeaways from the LIF training?

The most important lesson for me was being able to identify the key value proposition of my research, which is the creation of a building product that is more economical and sustainable than concrete.  I also came to understand who the users and customers of my technology are.

However, it was difficult picking out and summarising the highlights of my research, and communicating it effectively through a pitch in front of an audience of non-scientists. It was such an empowering feeling hearing Professor Russell Smith say, ‘well done!’ at the end of my pitch!

 

You won a Newton Fund Video Competition after the LIF training. Can you tell us about it?

In June 2016, the Newton Fund team at the Academy invited its awardees, including the LIF alumni, to prepare a video about the progress of our innovations. We had taken pictures of our activities and achievements at each step, to remind us of the effort we had invested, so it was easy for our design engineers to prepare a video, called ‘Pre-fab Building Parts Cement-Free’.

At the end of August, we received the news that we had won the global competition. The prize consisted of £5,000 for marketing our innovation, and a certificate of appreciation. This came along with an invitation from RAEng to fly to London for the Engineering a Better World conference in September 2016.

 

Sample blocks of Martha's hybrid material, which look like concrete blocks

 

You got a lot of news coverage as a result of the competition and marketing funding. What are your highlights?

I was featured in over 100 articles from local, national and regional papers, and sector-specific websites.

We were featured in ‘Especificarmag’, a Mexican site dedicated to water, energy and sustainability solutions. I was pleased with this article, because it accurately captured the process of creating our innovative material, and its potential to be used in many industrial applications, including construction and car manufacturing.

A national newspaper, El Universal, interviewed me and wrote a long feature about the benefits of our innovation, ‘With ash and paper, Mexicans create a material that is more resistant than concrete’. I was also interviewed on television.

 

How did the publicity impact your research?

Martha and her colleagues

Winning the Newton Fund Video Competition opened so many doors for us and allowed us to make contacts with a lot of people interested in using our technology, from Mexico and beyond. Discussions are still in progress so we aren’t at liberty to discuss the names of these organizations yet!

I had the chance to participate in the Clean Energy Materials Innovation Challenge Workshop at McMaster Innovation Park, Hamilton, Canada, in March 2018. This was an invitation-only event to discuss how advances in clean energy materials can combat climate change.

Finally, as a result of the LIF training and winning the video competition, the Institute of Physics invited me to be a STEM business mentor for 2018. This involves giving five workshops to scientific professionals or students about developing the skills to communicate their innovations to investors. I hope to do a good job as being chosen to be a STEM business mentor is a great honour.

 

 

What are your hopes for the future?

I hope to continue working with expert colleagues from Mexico and all over the world to create more innovations and enjoy the fun of developing brilliant ideas together.