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Proceedings of the International Symposium on

Sustainable Systems and Technologies, v2 (2014)




A Comparative Study of Clay Brick and Fl y 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 Calstars 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 J un-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)
If applicable, page number will go here after aggregating all papers
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, Chinas 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 (Chinas National Development and Reform
Commission, 2011). In 2011, Chinas 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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A. Mazzurco et al.
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. Calstars 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 Calstars 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) Calstars 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
0.03 lbs (0.08%) Bottom ash
2.34 lbs (55.8%) Sand
1.56 lbs (37.1%) Fly ash
0.25 lbs (5.9%) Water
Rawmaterials
transportation
< 50 miles < 60 miles
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. eBalances 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 240mm115mm53mm 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 240mm115mm53mm 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 240mm115mm53mm 240mm115mm53mm
Total weight 2.66 kg 2.20 kg
Composition 2.48 kg (93.4%) Clay
0.18 kg (6.6%) - Coal
0.22 kg (10%) Quicklime powder
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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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
Figure 1. Eco-indicator 99, clay vs. fly ash brick
Figure 2. TRACI 2, clay vs. fly ash brick
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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.

References

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Claybricks & Tiles. (2010). Everlasting beauty created from nature. Retrieved from
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