Launch Slideshow

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From Dust to Block

From Dust to Block

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    John Porterfield, owner of Porter Block, discusses the results of the compressive break of concrete made with mine tailings with Mike Meyer, lab technician at the World Center for Concrete Technology.

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    John Porterfield watches block production at the World Center for Concrete Technology.

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Proving worth

The idea of using concrete block to recycle waste is not new. Just ask Eric Krebs. The WCCT co-director has worked with producers from around the world for more than 25 years to try to create successful recipes of exotic materials for block. He has experimented with all types of aggregates, sands, and other particulate matter.

“Believe it or not, we've even had requests to experiment with biomass as potential fillers,” says Krebs. Fortunately, that idea went away fast.

Krebs says the review process is now easier than ever using WCCT's resources. The facility has a fully equipped materials testing lab and computer research capability. What makes it unique is the capability of actually mixing concrete and making block. According to Krebs, the full-scale blockmaking activity is what can separate a good idea from a profitable one.

There's another aspect of the WCCT mission that benefits the industry. Students attending ACC perform much of the work on special projects. WCCT and the faculty of the concrete program share the same building and lab facilities. ACC offers an associate in Applied Science degree with an emphasis on concrete technology.

The program started in the late 1960s as one of the original associate degree curriculums offered by the PCA. It's the only two-year program that continues.

Each student must complete a faculty-approved, self-selected research project. “Our clients often find that the real value of having the WCCT perform the research is that no only do they receive needed information, but they hire the student who did the work,” says WCCT co-director Bob Eller.

Using the whole buffalo

One of the WCCT's greatest supporters is John Porterfield, owner of Porter Block in Whitefish, Mont. Spurred by a desire to cast a block that is environmentally friendly in its hardened form, he has been involved in a two-year relationship with WCCT to determine the feasibility of using mine tailing as aggregate in blockmaking.

Porterfield says that commercial development in Montana is at a near-standstill due to opposition of both quarry and mine development. So when he tried to establish a blockmaking facility in his hometown, he discovered his greatest constraint to success was rock. His passion for the environment and for masonry construction led him to think outside the cube, and to approach a local mining concern about the availability of mine tailings.

Porterfield says his project is akin to how Plains Indians used the buffalo. When the braves killed a buffalo, the community didn't waste any part of the carcass. He plans to utilize the rock recovered from the mine in the same way. The mining company can sell its refined ore; Porterfield will use what's leftover.

“There's an abundance of tailings in our area, so if we are successful in our blockmaking concept, I'm providing a win-win proposition for everyone,” Porterfield says. “The mining company won't need to keep expanding its tailing contaminate areas. We won't need to establish new aggregate sources for block. And we can provide our communities a durable, safe, and sustainable masonry product.”