In an era of increasing focus on sustainable construction, researchers at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus are taking an unconventional approach by steering back in time to look for inspiration. Their recent study explores the potential of reviving ancient construction techniques using locally available, renewable materials.

The research, led by Dr. Sumi Siddiqua, Civil Engineering Professor with UBC's Advanced Geomaterials Testing Lab, focused on a technique known as rammed earth construction that employs materials that are alternatives to cement. The materials being sustainable and readily available in nature also favour their usage in multiple construction processes.

One among these materials happens to be wood fly ash, which is a by-product of pulp mills and coal-fired power plants which conventionally end up in land-fills. The fly ash has comparable strength and durability to cement and is usually used in concrete to boost its strength.

"Using local soil along with rammed earth products reduces sand exploitation. And just as importantly, this material is not affected by wildfires to the same extent as current wooden structures." says Dr. Siddiqua.

A global shortage of sand is a challenge for construction companies and workers and as such builders are looking for affordable alternatives and readily available materials that match or exceed the strength of normal cement.
One of the key advantages of these natural building materials is their ability to regulate indoor temperatures effectively, reducing the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling systems. Additionally, timber and earthen structures have a much lower embodied carbon footprint compared to steel and concrete.

Dr. Siddiqua acknowledges that the widespread use of rammed earth materials in construction may take some time, however, the use of fly ash into composite cements is a significant step forward. This innovation could pave the way for a more sustainable future in the building sector.