A team of engineers is set to start building houses in the Philippines using materials from an unexpected source – the country’s abundant supply of rice. Husk to Home have developed boards made from discarded husks and are to start using them to create long-lasting, sustainable, and eco-friendly homes.
In 2013, Bohol Island in the Philippines was struck by a huge 7.2 magnitude earthquake, followed by a super typhoon, which displaced over 350,000 people and damaged approximately 80,000 homes. Construction of relief shelters was often carried out using conventional plywood, or locally sourced materials such as bamboo and coconut wood. However, all three of these materials are tempting to termites, and damage often renders them useless after just two years - they could never offer a permanent solution.
Faced with this challenge, a team of engineers from the University of California teamed up with Engineers Without Borders and a local organisation called IDEA to try to develop a more sustainable solution – a building material that was sustainable, sturdy, inexpensive and long-lasting (i.e. not attractive to termites), that didn't need to be replaced every couple of years.
Rice Husks and Plastic Waste Become Low-Cost Homes
There are plenty of alternative construction materials out there already, and we've written about a number of them here at RESET: from a whole village made of plastic bottles in Panama, to blocks made from plastic and rubber waste in Colombia and bricks grown from sand and bacteria. But this team wanted to come up with a whole new idea, one that would use the resources already available in the country itself. They spent several years experimenting with different materials and adhesives, before hitting on rice husks (a waste product produced from milling rice grains) as a possible option.
As the eighth biggest rice producer in the world, in the Philippines their husks are in no short supply. Now fittingly named Husk to Home, they came up with a composite that was everything they wanted - by replacing woodchips with husks the boards are robust, termite-resistant, eco-friendly and made using easily available natural materials. And the adhesive binding the mixture together is recycled too, from another product readily found in the Philippines, high density polyethylene (HDPE) - the plastic used in plastic bags, bottles and other packaging.
© Husk to Home The Husk to Home team present samples of their sustainable rice husk construction boards.
According to the team of engineers, the boards are estimated to cost around seven USD for a piece measuring four by eight foot, the same price as conventional plywood. And now, after years of development the team has received a grant that will allow them to start bringing their product to the country itself, investing in production equipment and in a few years from now, finally building refugee shelters and low-cost housing in the province most affected by 2013's earthquake.
It will be interesting to see how the project develops - hopefully, if the production process remains simple and requires minimal machinery, the manufacture of the boards can also create job opportunities for the local population. And as the Philippines continues to be hit by devastating earthquakes, it's vital to know how the boards will stand up to future tremors in the country.