Brickbats over bricks

Some more input from CalStar on their pending entry into the building materials market. I had asked about who set the standards for what is a "brick.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

Some more input from CalStar on their pending entry into the building materials market. I had asked about who set the standards for what is a "brick."

The answer from CalStar: "ASTM is not the gatekeeper for new products - national and local building codes are. As with any new building material, we need to start with the standards that are available for similar products, and then develop a suitable ASTM standard for fly ash brick in due course. Despite what the BIA may try to make people believe, there's no particular magic here - the ASTM standards that test the suitability in real live applications for concrete products, clay bricks, and other masonry products are remarkably similar despite the fact they're made of different raw materials.

"The international building code, and most local building codes, explicitly allow for the process we're following - without it, introducing new products would be very difficult if not impossible."


"It’s interesting that while the BIA is not prepared to acknowledge CalStar’s new fly ash brick as real, they are disappointed when they’re not consulted for every news story about the product!

"Mr. Sears’ comments presume that if certain information has not been made available to the BIA, the information simply doesn’t exist. This is not the case. Further, in the absence of this information and without having ever seen or held a fly ash brick himself, Mr. Sears goes on to make broad assertions and assumptions about the performance of the product. These are also incorrect.

"CalStar is currently producing many thousands of fly ash bricks in a pilot facility, in preparation for demonstration projects and commercial production starting later this year. As with any new product that expects to be accepted in the market, significant research, development, and production and testing has occurred prior to launch. As with any new building material, we start with ASTM standards for similar products to test the strength and durability of our products, until a separate standard is developed for fly ash bricks – the building code recognizes this approach explicitly. The ASTM standards for clay and concrete masonry products are very similar despite differences in raw materials and production processes, so it is reasonable to expect that fly ash products that meet these standards will perform perfectly well in the field.

"For example, CalStar’s bricks have been extensively tested against ASTM C216 - 07a Standard Specification for Facing Brick (Solid Masonry Units Made from Clay or Shale. CalStar bricks exceed the requirement for compressive strength, are below the maximum allowable cold and hot water absorptions, and pass the freeze/thaw test described in ASTM C67 - 09 Standard Test Methods for Sampling and Testing Brick and Structural Clay Tile. CalStar will not be asking anyone to “automatically presume” anything about its product performance, but will provide test results from accredited third-party labs that documents performance to ASTM standards and beyond.

"The fired clay brick industry’s progress over recent decades in reducing its cost by reducing energy consumption is admirable. Unfortunately this effort is reaching its limit, and the energy footprint of fired bricks remains high, notwithstanding the 3 plants (out of over 200 in the U.S.) that rely on methane to fire their kilns. CalStar bricks provide the market with a choice that is similar in performance to conventional fired clay bricks, but with a dramatic reduction in environmental impact.

"As for the difference in raw materials, clay and shale are virgin materials requiring energy-intensive extraction and processing; the negative land-use implications of mining often leads communities to resist the development of new clay brick plants. (Notably, China is in the process of outlawing clay brick manufacturing altogether because of the high impact of the clay mining on their landscape and agriculture.) By contrast, fly ash is an industrial byproduct, which, when unused, is disposed of in landfills. CalStar’s beneficial reuse of this industrial material transforms it into useful, valuable products and reduces the need for land dedicated to landfills.

"Like it or not, our society burns coal in power plants to produce 75% of our electricity. Fly ash is a byproduct of this process, pure and simple – electric utilities typically derive less than one-one thousandth of their revenues from selling these by-products, and this revenue is often more than offset by the tipping fees incurred for landfilling whatever they can’t sell. In this light, it makes no sense to attach the energy consumed in power generation to the fly ash. Consider this: if CalStar made bricks using the fly ash resulting from burning coal to fire a clay brick kiln, Mr. Sears’ logic would seem to suggest that the energy consumed in the process of making the clay bricks be accounted for a second time (or perhaps entirely?) in the footprint of the fly ash bricks, a self-serving but otherwise implausible concept.

"When we as a nation advance sufficiently that all of our energy is supplied by renewable sources, the fossil fuel energy embodied in building materials will no longer be a concern, and CalStar will be delighted to move on to make other green products. After all, in that scenario, fired clay bricks will be made using wind and solar power, with no need for all the coal, natural gas, and petcoke required today.

"Until we reach that happy day, it makes sense to use any materials available – no matter how unexpected the source – to reinvent traditional building products with low-energy, low-CO2 alternatives. Despite all the BIA’s evident wishes to the contrary, CalStar’s bricks and pavers represent a good first step in that direction."

Here's my original blog that started this discussion.

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