Swiss researcher Ellina Bernard, supported by a grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, is exploring the potential of clay as a sustainable building material. Traditional building materials, especially cement, contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions. Bernard’s research aims to harness clay’s eco-friendly qualities—abundant supply, recyclability, and low CO2 emissions— to create sustainable structures.
Clay, an ancient building material, could offer a cleaner alternative to concrete. While it may not replace concrete entirely, Bernard envisions its application in non-load-bearing constructions and load-bearing walls of residential buildings. In Switzerland, where over half of building permits are for residential structures, this could make a substantial impact.
To enhance the stability of clay, Bernard’s team explores the use of magnesium oxide as a stabilizing binder. Initial laboratory experiments show promising results, achieving up to 15 megapascals of compressive strength. The sustainable production of magnesium oxide could further reduce the carbon footprint compared to conventional cement.
Bernard’s project, “Deciphering the role of magnesium in earth materials for sustainable construction,” not only focuses on material strength but also considers the holistic sustainability of building materials. Life cycle analyses accompany laboratory experiments to assess durability, deconstruction, and recyclability.
While the project is in its early stages, the goal is to define standards for clay composition, mechanical strength, and create a clean, eco-friendly alternative for industrial construction. This research, supported by an Ambizione grant, represents a significant step toward greener construction practices in Switzerland.