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Proceedings of the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies, v2 (2014)

Proceedings of the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies, v2 (2014)

A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fly Ash Brick in USA and China: Environmental and Sociocultural Perspectives

Andrea Mazzurco School of Engineering Education, Purdue University, amazzurc@purdue.edu Qin Zhu School of Engineering Education, Purdue University, qinzhu@purdue.edu Wuji Guo School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University, guo247@purdue.edu Fu Zhao School of Mechanical Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, Purdue University, fzhao@purdue.edu

Abstract

This study aims to understand the reasons that lead USA and China to adopt contrasting environmental policies regarding the use of clay bricks and fly ash bricks. To achieve this goal, we first performed two comparative cradle-to-gate LCA (one for each country), and then undertook a sociocultural analysis to understand and complement the results of the LCA studies. We used information from BEES and Calstar’s Environmental Product Declaration for clay and fly ash bricks respectively in the USA case. In the Chinese case, we relied on the Chinese software eBalance, developed by a research group at Sichuan University, for the unit processes involved to make the two bricks. The socio-cultural analysis was based on scholarship in the social shaping of technology and on scholarships that explain how “consumer culture” shapes the adoption of technology. Our LCA and sociocultural analyses illuminate why the U.S. favors clay bricks and China favors fly ash bricks, largely due to sociocultural rather than environmental factors. While fly ash bricks are superior to clay bricks in all environmental impact categories, clay bricks are used more extensively in the U.S. because they are made of “natural” and “abundant” materials, have a “historical” look, and are not “contaminated” by technology, which has been widely questioned in the modern history of American culture. In the Chinese case, we found that fly ash and clay bricks have similar GWP, and that adoption of fly ash bricks is due to sociocultural factors. In fact, since fly ash bricks are more technology- advanced than clay bricks, their adoption aligns with a characteristically Marxist view for which technology advancement is the main instrument of human progress. Additionally, the red color of clay bricks is not seen as historical because ancient Chinese bricks were typically grey.

Proceedings of the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies (ISSN 2329-9169) is published annually by the Sustainable Conoscente Network. Melissa Bilec and Jun-Ki Choi, co-editors. ISSSTNetwork@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014 by Mazzurco A., Zhu, Q., Guo, W., Zhao, F. Licensed under CC-BY 3.0. Cite as:

A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fly Ash Brick in USA and China: Environmental and Sociocultural

Perspectives. Proc. ISSST, Mazzurco A., Zhu, Q., Guo, W., Zhao, F

Doi information v2 (2014)

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A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fly Ash Brick in USA and China: Environmental and Sociocultural Perspectives.

Introduction According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010), 5.4 billion bricks were produced in the U.S in 2008, among which, 3.3 billion were clay bricks, contributing to approximately 60% of the annual total brick production. In contrast, China’s State Council (2005) requested that clay bricks be banned and new construction materials (e.g. fly ash bricks) were encouraged to be used as substitutes for clay bricks. As a result, more than 600 cities across China had stopped consuming clay bricks by the end of 2010 (China’s National Development and Reform Commission, 2011). In 2011, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (2011) mandated that beginning 2015, bricks containing clay as additive will be prohibited from being used in 30% of Chinese cities. Meanwhile, “new-type” bricks such as fly ash bricks have been widely promoted by the Chinese government and adopted by the construction industry. However, in the United States, and when compared to conventional clay bricks, fly ash bricks and other “alternative” construction materials have not been paid nearly the same level of attention. Only a limited American companies have devoted resources towards manufacturing fly ash bricks.

While some studies have been performed in Greek (see Koroneos, & Dompros, 2007) and Spanish (see Bribian, Capilla, & USon, 2011) contexts, very limited studies on fly ash bricks as compared to clay bricks have been done in USA and China. Only the American company CalStar has been taking a leadership role in comparing their fly ash brick with conventional clay brick. Recently, CalStar worked with Perkins + Will to complete an EPD (environmental protection declaration), including an ISO-compliant LCA, for their fly ash brick product (Clastar, 2012). Yet, we were not able to find any study comparing fly and clay bricks in China. Finally, no study has compared the two types of bricks in terms of sociocultural factor.

Research Questions

Our study aims at answer one main research question and three sub-questions:

1. Why USA favors clay brock while China favors fly ash brick?

a. In USA, which brick does possess higher environmental characteristics?

b. In China, which brick does possess higher environmental characteristics?

c. What sociocultural factors underline the adoption of clay or fly ash bricks in USA and China?

Investigative Method To answer our research question and the related sub-questions, we first performed two comparative LCA, and then undertook a sociocultural analysis to understand and complement the results of the LCA studies. We conducted two comparative cradle-to-gate LCA, one for each country. In the U.S. case, for clay bricks we gathered data from BEES, while for fly ash bricks, we referred to the Environmental Product Declaration issued by Calstar, one of the U.S. leading companies in the manufacturing of fly ash bricks. The analysis was performed with SimaPro 7.2, and both Eco-Indicator 99 and TRACI 2 were used to compare the environmental impacts of the two bricks. In the Chinese case, we relied on the Chinese software eBalance, developed by a research group at Sichuan University, who granted us access to the software and the unit processes for the two bricks. However, we were able to assess only Global Warming Potential with this software.

In both the USA and Chinese case, we compared the bricks only in terms of raw material extractions and manufacturing. This means we conducted a cradle-to-gate life cycle analysis (as illustrated in Figure 2). This means we made the following assumptions:

Same kind of packaging is used for both finished clay and fly ash bricks.

The bricks are used in the same job site, hence transportation is the same.

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Mortar used with fly ash bricks is the same of mortar used with clay bricks, as declared by Calstar (2012).

The disposal of both bricks is the same.

The socio-cultural analysis was based on scholarship in the social shaping of technology and on scholarships that explain how “consumer culture” shapes the adoption of technology.

Comparative LCA for the American case.

Based on the BEES (2005) database, a typical clay brick weights 4.10 lb and its dimensions are 3.6 in x 2.2 in x 7.62 in. The BEES database reports that almost 100% of clay bricks are made

of clay. It actually estimates that 99.2% of the mass of a clay brick is mined clay, while the

remaining 0.8% is bottom ash, a post-industrial recycled material. During the manufacturing process, all residue material is returned to the manufacturing stream. The BEES database reports that the manufacturing process requires 0.987 cu. ft. of natural gas (equivalent to 1.041 MJ) and 0.081 MJ of grid electricity per lb of brick (BEES, 2005). Approximately 20.5% of water by weight is used during the forming process and then is returned to atmosphere during the drying and firing process (BEES, 2005). The raw materials are transported less than 50 miles by truck to the brick manufacturing plant. The manufacturing process does not generate any waste material (BEES, 2005).

A single modular Calstar is lighter than a typical clay brick because it weighs 3.8 lbs, but its

dimensions are the same (3.625 in x 2.25 in x 7.625 in). A brick is composed by 2.34 lbs (55.8%) of sand, 1.56 lbs (37.1%) of fly ash, and 0.25 lbs (5.9%) of water. Calstar’s EPD does not provide information about the composition of the remaining 0.2%. Fly ash is produced during the process of generating electricity from coal and it is usually disposed in landfills. In the case of Calstar’s bricks, fly ash is used as a binder, instead of clay or other commonly used materials (such as Portland cement). Calstar (2012) declared that the energy needed to produce one brick is 1200 Btu, of which 41% is consumed by the manufacturing process. Specifically, 22% comes from grid electricity and 19% from burning natural gas (Calstar, 2012).Table 1 reports compositions and energy consumption for both clay bricks and fly ash. The greatest difference between the two processes is in the consumption of natural gas, with fly ash manufacturing being dramatically less than for clay bricks. This is due to the fact that fly ash bricks are fired at less than 200 °F over nights, while clay bricks require firing at 2000 °F for 100 hrs (Calstar,

2012).

Table 1. Composition and Energy consumption for clay and fly ash bricks (USA case)

   

Clay Brick

 

Fly Ash Brick

Source

BEES (2005)

Calstar’s EPD (2012)

Dimensions

3.6 in x 2.2 in x 7.62 in

3.625

in x 2.25 in x 7.625 in

Total weight

4.10

lbs

3.80

lbs

Composition

4.07

lbs (99.2%) – Clay

2.34

lbs (55.8%) – Sand

0.03

lbs (0.08%) – Bottom ash

1.56

lbs (37.1%) – Fly ash

 

0.25

lbs (5.9%) – Water

Raw materials

< 50 miles

< 60 miles

transportation

Grid energy

0.081

MJ/lb (76.77 Btu/lb)

0.072

MJ/lb (68.42 Btu/lb)

Natural gas

1.041

MJ/lb (987 Btu/lb)

0.063

MJ/lb (60.00 Btu/lb)

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A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fly Ash Brick in USA and China: Environmental and Sociocultural Perspectives.

Comparative LCA for the Chinese case.

In the case of Chinese bricks, we utilized the software eBalance, developed by a research

group at Sichuan University. eBalance’s database includes compositions, processes, energy consumptions for both clay and fly ash bricks. Table 2 reports bricks compositions.

According to eBalance database, a standard clay brick is 240mm×115mm×53mm and is constituted by 93.4% clay and 6.6% coal. Clay brick manufacturing process consumes electricity from state grid and coal from coal mines as energy input, along with clay from clay mining which requires diesel as fuel for the industrial machines. All materials are transported by truck.

A standard fly ash brick is 240mm×115mm×53mm and consist of 10% quicklime powder, 2%

gypsum, 68% fly ash, and 20% slag. For fly ash bricks, gypsum, gypsum mining requires blasting and industrial machines driven by diesel, and both slag and fly ash are by-products of

normal coal industry. During the manufacturing process, electricity from state grid and steam are required. All materials are transported by truck.

 

Table 2. Composition of clay and fly ash bricks (China)

   

Clay Brick

 

Fly Ash Brick

Source

 

eBalance Database

 

Dimensions

240mm×115mm×53mm

240mm×115mm×53mm

Total weight

2.66

kg

2.20

kg

Composition

2.48

kg (93.4%) – Clay

0.22

kg (10%) – Quicklime powder

0.18

kg (6.6%) - Coal

0.04

kg (2%) – Gypsum

 

1.50

kg (68%) – Fly Ash

0.44

kg (20%) – Slag

Sociocultural analysis For sociocultural analysis, our basic assumption is that brick is a sociocultural artifact in society, that is, brick is socially and culturally constructed. In this regard, our research draws on the scholarship in the social shaping of technology (SST) (Williams & Edge, 1996). In particular, we are interested in how “consumer culture” shaped the social adoption of technology (Klind & Pinch, 1996). Analyzing the consumer culture is helpful for understanding the broader sociocultural context in which two kinds of bricks are socially adopted in different ways in the United States and China. More specifically, we systematically investigated a series of sociocultural concepts, such as beauty, nature, history, and resource from both American and Chinese cultural perspective.

Results

In this section, we report separately results from the LCA comparative study in USA, in China,

and the sociocultural analysis.

Comparative LCA for the American case We compared clay and fly ash bricks in terms of impact categories available in Eco-Indicator 99 (endpoint) and TRACI (midpoint). As shown in Figure 1 (results for Eco-Indicator 99), fly ash is superior in every damage category. The only category where clay and fly ash bricks have similar impact is radiation, but still clay bricks win by a 20% margin. Similar to the Eco-indicator case, the results of TRACI 2 shows that fly ash bricks are environmentally superior to clay bricks (see Figure 2).

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A. Mazzurco et al. Figure 1. Eco-indicator 99, clay vs. fly ash brick Figure 2. TRACI

Figure 1. Eco-indicator 99, clay vs. fly ash brick

et al. Figure 1. Eco-indicator 99, clay vs. fly ash brick Figure 2. TRACI 2, clay

Figure 2. TRACI 2, clay vs. fly ash brick

Comparative LCA for the Chinese case In this case, Impact Assessment is limited to GWP due to the function of eBalance. The results are reported in Table 3 and are based on the amount of 10,000 pieces of standard bricks.

Table 3. GWP results for Chinese case

 

GWP for Clay Brick, Kg (%)

GWP for Fly Ash Brick, kg (%)

State Grid

1.44E-2 (2.95%)

5.45E-2 (11.38%)

Manufacturing

4.33E-1 (88.83%)

6.60E-2 (13.74%)

Transportation by Truck

4.50E-2 (0.93%)

3.97E-4 (0.083%)

Diesel Combustion plant

6.58E-3 (1.35%)

5.546E-4 (0.115%)

Coal Mining

2.89E-2 (5.95%)

 

Lime Processing

 

2.952E-1 (61.47%)

Steaming

 

6.337E-2 (13.20%)

Blasting

 

3.759E-5 (0.008%)

Total

4874E-1

4.802E-1

From the results reported in Table 3, it is interesting to find that fly ash brick have a similar performance on GWP compared with clay bricks, mainly because of the huge energy consumption during the lime processing phase

Sociocultural analysis As stated earlier, we compared clay and fly ash bricks in terms of sociocultural factors related to terms such as beauty, nature, history, and resources. We found that based on each factors USA

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A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fly Ash Brick in USA and China: Environmental and Sociocultural Perspectives.

favors clay brick while China favors fly ash:

Beauty. In USA, the design culture shifted from modernism to postmodernism (Gelernter, 1999) and the negative impacts of technology (e.g., nuclear weapons) have shifted the sense of beauty from modern to historical and traditional (Mitcham, 1997). Consequently, the historical look of clay bricks is much preferred. In contrast China is still in a modernist cultural phase in which modern aesthetics are preferred. As a consequence, China prefers the technological grey color of fly ash bricks.

Nature. In many advertisements of clay bricks, the word natural is often used (see for instance Claybricks & Tiles, 2010), because of American preference toward objects that comes from natural resources. Thus, again clay is favored. In China, nature becomes the object of technological transformation. From Marxist perspective, using technology to transform nature is seen as a way showing human subjective initiatives as well as creativity, which distinguish human beings from animals. Hence, nature/natural occasionally means undercivilized in contemporary Chinese culture (Shapiro, 2001).

History. In USA, the color “red” of clay brick has not been changed for hundreds of years. Hence, the color red represents historical, classical, and elegant. The red clay brick has also been used throughout the American history, according to the Brick Industry Association (2013). In Chinese civil society, history/historical is not a major determinant in designing civil structures. Consequently, no historical appearance is preferred.

Resource. In USA, clay is perceived and portrayed as an abundant resource that makes it a proper material for constructions, although fly ash is largely available and underutilized. In China, land resources are really scares, making fly ash more preferable.

Conclusion Based on our analyses above, the reason why the United States favors clay brick while China favors fly ash brick is not due to environmental reasons but due to sociocultural factors. Based on our LCA studies, in the United States, although clay brick is more environmentally friendly in most environmental impact categories, clay brick is used more widely than fly ash brick for several sociocultural reasons: (1) clay brick is made up of “natural material (clay)”; (2) the red clay brick looks historical, classical, and elegant; (3) clay brick has not been “contaminated” by technology which is widely questioned in the modern history of American culture; (4) clay is seen as an abundant resource which is close to what people think as “environmentally friendly”.

In contrast, clay brick is currently being substituted by fly ash brick in China. However, this policy change is not due to the better environmental performance of fly ash brick. Based on our LCA results, unlike in the United States, fly ash brick has almost the same GWP as clay brick. Hence, in terms of GWP, fly ash brick is not completely better than clay brick. Our analyses have shown that there are some sociocultural reasons that fly ash brick is widely accepted and clay brick is not as popular as in the United States: (1) China adopts a modernist view of technical beauty on which clay brick is not viewed as more beautiful than fly ash brick. Alternatively, modern reinforced concrete buildings are seen as technically beautiful rather than brick buildings; (2) as fly ash brick is more technologically advanced than clay brick, it praises human subjective initiatives as well as creativity which distinguish human beings from animal; (3) China adopts a Marxist optimistic view based on which potential technological risks in fly ash brick is not as explicit as in the United States. Technology means positive, progressive, advanced/advancement, rational/rationality; (4) Unlike the United States, the red color of clay brick is not seen as “historical” as ancient Chinese clay brick was in grey. Red clay brick was introduced into China from the West. (5) China has large population but very little arable land.

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Acknowledgements We would like to thank especially the research group affiliated with Sichuan University, who granted us access to the software eBalance and the unit processes for the two bricks in China.

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