Cement for food waste: a gingerbread-style construction option

TOKYO (AP) – Have you ever dreamed of having a gingerbread house like Hansel and Gretel? Soon edible houses…

TOKYO (AP) – Have you ever dreamed of having a gingerbread house like Hansel and Gretel?

In the near future, edible houses may no longer be found in fairy tales.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo Kota Machida and Yuya Sakai have developed technology to turn food waste into potentially edible “cement” for construction use.

This is the world’s first process of obtaining cement entirely from food waste. Researchers say that the tensile or bending strength of their products is almost four times greater than that of conventional concrete.

Machida and Sakai say they hope to help reduce global warming by alleviating the problems associated with wasting methane-releasing foods when they rot while in landfills.

Sakai, an associate professor of industrial science, developed the technology while researching durable materials that could replace cement-based concrete. According to the think tank Chatham House, cement production accounts for 8% of global carbon emissions.

He first developed a method of making concrete by subjecting heat to crushed wood particles. The three-step process of drying, grinding and compressing was done using simple mixers and compressors, which researchers say can be purchased on Amazon.

Sakai and his student Machida decided to do the same with food waste. Preliminary tests using food waste for cement production required mixing the plastics to make the materials stick together.

After months of setbacks, they realized they could make the cement bond by adjusting the temperature and pressure.

“The hardest part was that each type of food waste required different temperatures and pressure levels,” Sakai said.

Other experiments on the use of food waste in construction have focused mainly on the use of things such as coffee grounds or ash from biowaste as a filler in conventional concrete.

Sakai and Machida say they have successfully made cement using tea, orange and onion peels, coffee grounds, Chinese cabbage and even leftover lunch boxes.

They adjusted the flavors with different spices and found that the color, aroma and taste of the cement can be very appealing. To be able to eat the material, a person would have to break it into pieces and boil it, Sakai said.

To make the cement waterproof and protect it from being eaten by rodents and other pests, it can be covered with Japanese varnish.

Food waste is a huge problem in Japan and around the world. In 2019, Japan produced about 5.7 million tons of food waste, and the government aims to reduce this by about 2.7 million tons by 2030.

Last year, Machida set up a company called Fabula Inc. with two of his childhood friends. They work with other companies to make cups, cutlery and furniture from food cement.

Sakai says the process could be used to create edible makeshift housing for natural disasters.

“For example, if food cannot be delivered to evacuees, they can eat makeshift food cement beds,” he said.

Food cement can be reused and biodegradable, so it can be buried when it is no longer needed.

“Our ultimate hope is that this cement will replace plastic and cement products that have the worst impact on the environment,” Machida said.

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